In a message to our community in the summer of 2020, we committed to a number of ways we as a company would invest in the fight against inequity in the publishing industry. A year later, we gave our first annual update on our progress on this work. Now, we are marking the beginning of our third year of commitment to this work. We’ve been heartened by the progress we’ve seen across the industry over the past two years, but we also recognize that we’re still in the very early years of a long, ongoing journey to unravel systemic inequity in publishing. Our hope is that our annual updates continue to serve as a means of accountability to all of you for the progress we’ve made in our own businesses over the past twelve months, and as a window into how we plan to invest in positive change over the next year.
One of our ongoing commitments has been to improve our methods of auditing the books we promote. It’s been critical to understand the representation of authors from marginalized identities on Chirp and BookBub so that we can identify the areas of our businesses where we see the most need or potential for positive change, root out potential bias in the ways we select which books to promote, and measure progress across our efforts over time. Historically, our teams did this work manually, so one of our priorities was to automate this process. This spring, we sent an optional demographic questionnaire to every author whose books were submitted to us for a promotion in the last year (for whom we had direct contact information), inviting them to self-identify across a few dimensions of identity that have been historically tied to inequity: race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and disability. To collect this data, we also made changes to our internal tools and databases so that any responses could be automatically processed and stored in a dedicated, secure repository.
From preliminary analyses of the initial data we’ve collected so far, we’ve seen promising signs: compared to our last self-audit, the books that we’re promoting are more representative of a variety of author identities, including those from historically marginalized groups. We’re excited about these early signals of progress, and we hope to be able to continue growing our understanding of where progress is happening, as well as where we should prioritize upcoming efforts. One of the core priorities for our team this year will be to continue collecting this data on an ongoing basis for both past and future promotions, so we can more comprehensively and effectively audit ourselves moving forward.
In parallel to these self-auditing efforts, we made a number of investments this past year to continue to improve the representation of books by authors from historically underrepresented identities on Chirp and BookBub. Our aim was to find new ways to make sure our book discovery tools are supporting and celebrating the works of creators across the full spectrum of identities — and not inadvertently systematically disadvantaging authors from any groups or backgrounds. One such effort was conducting additional deep dives into some of our book discovery algorithms — for example, the algorithm behind the recommendations in our “Top Trending Deals” email, which surfaces a handful of popular and trending deals to a subset of our readers each week. Our team took steps to ensure that we’re doing a good job of matching readers to a diversity of content from a diversity of perspectives, with the ultimate goal of optimizing promotion performance for authors across all identities.
We also made adjustments to the way we’re curating our Black Stories & Experiences category, so that subscribers to the category are receiving a broader offering of promotions relevant to Black identities. We’ve seen promising signs that this change has been a positive one for both readers and authors: Readers interested in the Black Stories & Experiences category are receiving even more deals that they’re excited about, and each relevant promotion is being exposed to a wider audience. As we continue to monitor the impact of these changes, our team is hopeful that we’ll be able to identify opportunities to extend our learnings across our businesses. Finally, like many other organizations in publishing, our team was proud to recognize awareness months like Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Black History Month. We highlighted books on our sites by incredible authors from underrepresented groups, both as a way to help catalyze sales for books by these authors and for the benefit of our readers. This coming year, we’ll continue to seek ways to expand on these efforts across both Chirp and BookBub.
One of our more nascent efforts this year was to begin exploring new ways to broaden our audience. We believe that as we grow BookBub and Chirp, if we can reach new, diverse audiences of readers, we’ll see a wider variety of reading tastes, content preferences, and buying habits on our platforms — leading to even higher engagement with books authored by marginalized creators. Our team began the work of testing new marketing channels and strategies that we historically haven’t had much of a presence on, and have been taking extra steps to make sure our marketing campaigns are welcoming and engaging to readers across a variety of identities, backgrounds, and perspectives. Our work here is still in its beginning stages, and in the coming months, we plan on investing even more resources into this exploration.
This past year, we also made additional investments in external organizations who are doing some incredible, impactful work to advance equity in publishing. We made a new financial commitment to DiverseVoices, Inc., which focuses on supporting and increasing the number of book creators who self-identify as members of marginalized communities. We were thrilled to sponsor DVCon, which is their free virtual conference for self-identifying marginalized book creators. We also expanded our partnership with We Need Diverse Books to continue our sponsorship of the Walter Awards grant and to begin supporting their Black Creatives Fund. We’re committed to continuing to grow the amount of resources that we invest in other organizations’ efforts for equity and justice in the industry.
Finally, we sought additional levers to continue building an internal culture that fosters equity, inclusion, and belonging. Most recently, we launched programming and resources to more formally support our internal identity-based communities of employees from historically marginalized groups. We also began a new partnership with an external consultancy to help equip our leaders to manage their work and teams from lenses of equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging through a series of training sessions; and to offer new training opportunities to all our employees, including workshops on understanding race and racism, and on supporting the transgender community. In the coming months, we plan to continue offering new opportunities for leaders and employees to continue in their journeys of becoming better allies, and to grow in their ability to conduct work in a way that reflects awareness, advocacy, and sensitivity towards a diversity of perspectives and identities.
Over these past two years, we’ve been so grateful for the collaboration, support, and feedback from this community. We’re humbled and hopeful to continue on this journey towards positive change together. As we’ve requested in our previous two messages, if you have ideas or suggestions for our ongoing work, we’d be thankful to hear from you through this form, which you can choose to complete anonymously. And if you’re an author who hasn’t yet completed our demographic questionnaire, we’d be grateful for you to fill it out if you feel comfortable doing so. (Your responses will not be available to editors during any submission review process, and will have no bearing on your future promotions.) As always, we’re so grateful for your trust and partnership.