The Unfortunate Numbers

By , December 5, 2013 3:30 pm

Disclaimer: The opinions below do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the University Press of North Georgia College. They belong solely to the author.

There are no guidelines or dos and don’ts for writing about what three hundred years of euphemisms and a whole academic/political machinery still can’t quite figure out how to face head-on. We know this: the publishing world is overwhelmingly white. Writers of color puzzle over rejection letters that say things like, “Great writing and story but I didn’t identify with the main character.”

Daniel José Older, “Another World Waits: Towards an Anti-Oppressive SFF,” Apex Magazine issue 55.

I don’t see a problem here.

No, I really don’t. It all comes down to some Pew poll numbers from a year or so back.

Table-3

See that “Mean Number of Books Read” column? Go to the rows which break it down by race:

White (non-Hispanic)                                     19

Black (non-Hispanic)                                      12

Hispanic                                                               11

So let me get this straight. Not only do whites constitute the majority of the general population, but they also read about 40% more books per person per year. What do you really expect to see?

In fact, let me do some number crunching to prove the point even more. If you take the total size of each demographic and multiply it by the number of books that group will read, you wind up with the total market size for each demographic.

White:                  78% of 314 million times 19 books per person per year:                  4.6 billion

Hispanic:              17% of 314 million times 11 books per person per year:                 590 million

Black:                    13% of 314 million times 12 books per person per year:                  490 million

All demographic numbers taken from Census.gov.

Of course these figures will wildly differ from new book sales. I’m sure an astute reader will have realized these figures lack several minorities and still total to 108%. The census figures—unlike the Pew numbers—count biracial as both races. Because the counting methods don’t match, regard the final figures as approximations.

But still, adjusted for how much interest in books these groups have, the white market is more than four times larger than the Latino and African American markets combined. That’s no approximate difference.

The problem is not the publishers, but that the minorities have cultures of non-literacy. Can they read? Almost to a one, yes. America’s literacy rate is one of the world’s highest. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that, for these minorities, reading is not that fulfilling for them.

I actually find this conclusion more depressing than if the publishing industry were somehow biased. At least then the problem would be controllable—perhaps even fixable—but a culture of not reading? I don’t have a clue how to even start fixing that. Worse: it’s everybody’s problem. It shrinks the market for publishers, and means we will hear fewer author voices overall, never mind where they hail from.

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