Books by women priced 45% lower, study finds | Sunday Observer

Books by women priced 45% lower, study finds

‘This pattern also mirrors the wage inequality within the larger economy.’  Pic: Alamy
‘This pattern also mirrors the wage inequality within the larger economy.’ Pic: Alamy

Analysis of more than 2m titles shows that on average, male authors’ work is strikingly better valued. A study of more than 2m books has revealed that titles by female authors are on average sold at just over half the price of those written by men.

The research, by sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner of Queens College-CUNY, looked titles published in North America between 2002 and 2012. The authors analyzed the gender of each author by matching names to lists of male and female names, and cross-referenced with information about price, genre and publication.

Books by women released by mainstream publishers, they found, were priced on average 45% lower than books by men. In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, the academics point out that there are more female authors writing in genres such as romance, which are generally priced lower than male-dominated genres such as science. But even after accounting for these differences, they found that prices for authors with identifiably female names were 9% lower than for male authors.

Weinberg said the study was inspired by the VIDA counts of book reviews, which have shown the skew towards reviews of books by male authors, written by male reviewers. “Our study looked at all three types of discrimination – the gender segregation by book genre, the different value placed on these genres, and then finally the difference within the genres,” she said. “VIDA has been very good about calling attention to the first issue, namely, the lack of representation of female authors in certain genres, and others have emphasized how books written predominantly by women and for women such as romance and women’s fiction do not receive the recognition they deserve.”

It was little surprise to see evidence of segregation by genre and the differing values placed on each genre, Weinberg added, but the researchers were very surprised at how clear this discrimination was.

“We expected that taking account of the first two discrimination patterns would knock out any remaining differences in prices within genre,” she said, “but we were wrong about that. The within-genre price difference (9% for traditionally published titles) was extremely robust across various analyses. In retrospect, perhaps we should not have been surprised about this difference, since this pattern also mirrors the wage inequality within jobs that we see in the larger economy.”

The study also looked at self-published, or independently published, titles over the same period, finding that when authors priced books themselves, there was far greater equality between the genders – although there was still a price gap of 7%. Inequality was also seen within genres for self-publishers, at 4% compared with the 9% for traditionally published books.

“Without the publishers, we see slightly less discrimination, but it’s still apparent, and it follows the same patterns,” said Weinberg. “The easy answer [for the disparity] would be that publishing companies are sexist, but the indie findings challenge that simple explanation. The findings point to the strength of shared social contexts. Likely, publishers and authors share many of the same unconscious biases about what genre specialties are appropriate for male or female authors and about the value of those genres, and indie authors may also be mimicking what they see in the traditional publishing world. In addition, both traditional publishers and indie authors are creating and reacting to markets for their work, or to their perceptions of those markets, and placing and pricing their titles accordingly.”

Costa-winning novelist Francesca Segal said, the study made her furious. “I had no idea, but how exhausting, enervating and entirely predictable. It is the old news framed in a new way – women paid less for the same work,” she said.

Author Samantha Shannon said she was “disappointed by this statistic, but not surprised”.

“There is still an assumption that fiction by men has universal appeal and fiction by women does not, and I imagine this plays into the pay gap. There’s also the fact that women are often socialized to be agreeable, and perhaps feel less confident asking their agents to push for more from their publishers. I suspect the only way to fight this in the long term is for women to keep owning our identities in the industry, and to resist the understandable instinct to mask ourselves with pseudonyms,” she said.

Novelist Joanne Harris said she had not previously noticed the discrepancy in pricing, “but in an industry where women’s work is generally seen as of less value and relevance, for it to be literally priced lower seems to make a twisted kind of sense”.

“It needs to be looked at in detail, as every case of this kind of thing adds subliminally to the general perception that books by women are disposable, forgettable and less worthy of attention,” she said.

- The independent

 

Comments