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May 10, 2010

Do women rule the publishing world?


Last month, best-selling author Jason Pinter blamed the lack of male readers on a publishing industry run amok with women. According to his Huffington Post piece, men will continue to eschew books as long as women who run publishing houses fail to produce reads that men are interested in.

In the article, he mentions a proposed book deal with pro-wrestler Chris Jericho, which he was convinced would be a phenomenal success, but his bosses weren't exactly convinced:

"One of our senior editors had a 15-year old nephew who was a wrestling fan. I was instructed to have a conference call with the editor's nephew, where I would ask him what he thought about Jericho. If the nephew agreed that Jericho was popular and the book had potential, I would be permitted to make an offer. If the kid disagreed, no dice. Naturally I was dumbstruck, infuriated, since I was essentially being told that a random 15-year with no publishing experience and questionable judgment was trusted more than I was."

 Jericho's book was published, and became a New York Times best-seller, but Pinter is convinced that many more male-friendly books are killed than are green-lit in today's publishing world -- because too many women hold positions of power, and don't understand what men want to read.

Last week, Quill and Quire expanded on this theme, discussing the possibility that not only is there a feminine bias, but it exists because only women are willing to work the long hours with much less compensation than men are willing to accept in their careers. As their piece asks, "Does publishing attract a disproportionate number of women because women make up the bulk of readers, or is it simply the case that more women are willing to accept the profession’s spiritually – but not materially – rewarding career prospects?"

This is an interesting argument for me, because the oft-repeated joke in the newsroom is that no one gets into journalism for the money. You work nights, weekends and 14-hour days for years, if not decades, for a much lower salary than your friends who pursued medicine, law or finance.

And yet, we don't seem to have any shortage of men in the profession. In fact, journalism has long been a male-dominated industry, and that doesn't seem to be changing.

So I don't think I'm convinced with the money argument. Both men and women decide to pursue careers based on their passions, not just their wallets, and I don't feel publishing should be any different. Of course, that does leave us with the original query: Do men read less because they're not being catered to, or are they not marketed to because men simply don't like to read?

(Photo by mmagallan on stock.xchng)

Posted by Nancy Knight at 11:15 AM | | Comments (5)


My information is, admittedly, dated but both economics and sociology textbooks as well as years and years of feminist leanings lead me to ask:

Does the publishing industry pay less for the same education/competence/experience? These are usually hallmarks of female-dominated industries.

It's hard to know how to break that chicken-and-egg cycle. From my experience, men read less than women, and tend to focus more on non-fiction (and certainly books related to sports and war). But that leaves plenty of room for publishers to create books that attract men.

As I recall, the truism as late as the 1960s was that 2/3 of the authors were men, 2/3 of the readers were women, and most of the editors were men. In that decade, SF Grand Master Andre Norton was just beginning to publish under her own name. Starting as a published author in the 1940s, she had to publish as Andrew North to make it past barriers. If women dominate publishing today, it seems to me it's because they've always been the majority of readers. At the same time, it won't hurt for the pendulum to swing closer to the middle. There are still a lot of avid male readers to be served. That's just plain good business.

In my 37 years in publishing (4 in book retailing, 33 as an acquisitions editor) I never saw one formal or informal survey that didn't document that women buy 70%-80% of all trade books (I won't speak for text, scholarly, professional). And as a co-owner of a small press in the 90s that did books by women for women it was clear that our sales were significantly higher than small publishers who did not focus on that market like we did. Jason Pinter is just wrong. When I started in publishing it was dominated by men, but I don't believe the stats have changed in terms of readers. If anything I would guess that fewer men are reading than when I started in the business. It is sad but predictable with the advent of so many alternative media options. And he is also wrong in terms of just number of titles published. PW recently stated, "A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers, according to statistics released this morning by R.R. Bowker. The number of "nontraditional" titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008. Taken together, total book output rose 87% last year, to over 1 million books." Sorry Jason, but there are plenty of books for men, and we (in the industry) wish they would buy and read more.

"Female-dominated"? There are lots of women in publishing, but the highest-paid management positions are disproportionately held by men. This contributes significantly to the massive gender gap in wages that PW's annual salary survey shows year after year.

If all those men in management wanted to hire male editors or lean on their editors to produce books with more appeal to men, they could do so quite easily. Why aren't they?

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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