April 25, 2018
Books written by women are cheaper than books written by men, a study finds
by Ryan Harrington
There are a depressing many ways to evaluate gender inequality in the publishing industry. You could look at salaries. You could look at women’s safety in the workplace. You could look at representation in the literary media.
A recent study conducted by Dana B. Weinberg and Adam Kapelner seeks to understand whether that gender inequality also plays out in the pricing of books by authors of different genders.
The short answer is “yes it does.”
The slightly longer answer, which opens the report that Weinberg and Kapelner published with the journal Plos One, is that “titles of traditionally published books by female authors are priced approximately 45% lower on average than those by male authors according to 2002-2012 data derived from R. R. Bowker’s Books in Print.”
The report’s authors use the term “traditionally published” to distinguish between books put out by trade houses and books that are self-published (which they, perhaps misleadingly for those of us working at independent presses, refer to as “indie publishing” and consider an outgrowth of the gig economy).
Though the price gap shrinks in the indie world (where women’s books are priced on average 7% cheaper than men’s) the report finds “that indie publishing, though more egalitarian, largely replicates traditional publishing’s gender discrimination patterns, showing an unequal distribution of male and female authors by genre (allocative discrimination), devaluation of genres written predominantly by female authors (valuative discrimination), and lower prices within genres for books by female authors (within-job discrimination).”
Over at Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran helps us understand these three types of discrimination. She writes, “First, female authors are published less than male authors in particular genres. Second, genres that are thought of as traditionally women-oriented—like romance—are assigned less value by the industry. And finally, there are gender differences in the prices of books within the same genre.”
Interestingly, of the data set collected from Books in Print, twenty-six percent of single-author titles were by writers with identifiably female names,forty-five percent with identifiably male names, and an additional twenty-nine percent by names whose gender could not be determined. This suggests, perhaps, that a set of savvy female authors have already internalized this lesson and opted to take the androgynous-pen-name, or going-by-initials route to getting a fairer shot for their books.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.