Publishing’s Whiter Shade of Pale

By Carmen Comment

As part of it’s “Race and Culture” theme this week, Time Out New York* meant to have a thoughtful piece about race as it applies to publishing complete with quotes from as many people as it could find. But as James Hannaham found out, not a lot of people are willing to go on record about why the publishing industry has been, and remains, predominantly white. He did get one anonymous editor called “Craig” to conduct a head count at his workplace, estimating that out of approximately 70 staffers, the company employed six people of color. “It’s pretty darn white,” Craig says.

So why is that? The starting salaries – very low – might be seen as a barrier for those lacking trust funds, or the high competitiveness of available jobs further self-selects the available employee pool. The only person willing to put her name in the article, Plume editor-in-chief Cherise Davis, thought it had to do more with background and socioeconomic status. “The issue is much broader than race. There are not a lot of working-class people in publishing either, and there aren’t even that many men. When I started out 13 or 14 years ago, I noticed that everyone had very wealthy parents and they were all from the Northeast.” Craig also identifies the practice of hiring from within social groups as a barrier to creating a racially representative workforce. “A lot of entry-level stuff is people recommending people, which results in the usual racial barriers. They hire the friends they went to Vassar with.”

But it’s not just a total sea of white faces – at least, in terms of the books scooped up for publication. “Five years ago, there was an explosion of imprints that were publishing work by Koreans, Indians and other people of color,” Davis adds, referring to divisions such as Rayo and Amistad, the mostly Latino and African-American branches of HarperCollins. “It all increased exponentially. There has been visible progress.” All well and good, but is it enough?

*I’ve got a short review in the same issue, so there’s my full disclosure.