Just over a year ago, the horrific killings of George Floyd and several other Black individuals led to a historic reckoning with systemic racism, prompting people and organizations — including our own — to reflect on how we’re perpetuating such social injustice.
Last June, we shared a message to our community with preliminary thoughts about our shortcomings and initial ideas for how we could effect positive change. Now that a year has passed, we want to hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we made in that message by providing the community with an update on our progress so far.
Reflecting on the commitments we made last year, we’ve made some progress, but not as much as we had hoped, and it’s clear there is much more work ahead. In this message, we share a summary of the work we pursued in the five areas of commitment we outlined in last year’s message as well as our plans to continue and broaden these efforts.
The first commitment we made last year was to audit the books we promote so we could understand our current representation of books by authors of color. This year we completed a preliminary analysis of the books that get submitted to us by our partners and those we select for promotions on BookBub or Chirp. While this audit was imperfect in a number of ways, it gave us a top-level estimate for our current representation rates.
Our audit showed that while our editors selected books by authors of color at the same rate as books by white authors, books by people of color made up less than 10% of our overall submissions, a figure that is well below reflecting the populations of the countries we primarily serve.
While this shortcoming may in some part be due to underrepresentation of published authors of color in the industry as a whole, we know we have a responsibility to address this issue ourselves. As a result, we’ve actively begun exploring ways to both encourage our partners to increase the number of books by authors of color submitted to us and help underrepresented voices be published and read, and we plan to increasingly invest here. We also realized we need a more automated method of auditing the books that we feature so we can track our aggregate progress on an ongoing basis, so we’re investing in ways to do this as well.
Our second commitment was to help break the echo chamber in publishing, the cycle in which the industry publishes and promotes books that are “comparable” to those that have sold well in the past, and tends to favor the same (generally white) authors and types of books that have historically been published and promoted.
This past year we’ve worked on several initiatives to try to push back on this trend, including creating more recurring opportunities to prominently merchandise authors of color on our sites, featuring more authors of color in our blog content, speaking with our publisher partners about their efforts around representation, and discussing ways to evolve our selection process to be based not only on historical performance trends but also on featuring a range of content.
In addition, we’ve started adjusting the way our algorithms surface authors and books to our members to show a more diverse selection of content. One specific change we made over the past year was to adjust our author suggestion system to recommend a larger and more diverse pool of authors that our readers might want to follow. This change has led to a significant increase in the percentage of members following authors of color and will increase the visibility of those authors’ deals, new releases, and other activity. Although improvements like this are small in the grand scheme of breaking the industry’s echo chamber, we’re hopeful that continuing to invest in even minor changes will help us play a part in driving equity and representation in the industry at large.
Given that so much of our service is representative of the overall industry, our third commitment was to seek change beyond our organization. As part of our work here since our last message, we deepened our relationship with We Need Diverse Books, an organization aimed toward increasing representation and diversity in children’s literature. This year, we sponsored their Walter Awards, which help bring attention to authors whose works feature diverse main characters and address representation in a meaningful way. We’ve also committed to increasing the money and time we dedicate to other organizations doing similar work to diversify the publishing industry. We’re exploring the possibility of working with a few different organizations, and we encourage our community to write in with suggestions for others we might consider supporting in the future.
Our fourth commitment was to add voices to help diversify our leadership. Last year our directors committed to adding two people to our board, providing an opportunity to bring in more expertise and underrepresented voices. Unfortunately, although we have started this process, we haven’t yet filled these positions, but we remain committed to doing so. Nevertheless, we have made other strides this past year in increasing representation internally, including hiring a new team member whose full-time focus is driving diversity and inclusion work across the organization. We’ve also continued increasing internal programs we’ve been investing in for years that help us work towards a more inclusive work environment for our team.
Our final commitment was to make sure our work is lasting, and to do this, we’ve begun shifting our work in this area from a series of one-off projects to work that is continually a core part of all innovation and day-to-day operations. Our goal in the immediate future is to find ways to embed and systematize the themes of diversity, inclusion, and equity across our various business functions, so that our work persists beyond some of the specific projects we’ve outlined. We also plan to continue sharing updates as we’ve done today. There’s no doubt that although we’ve made some headway this year, there’s so much more we can and should do.
If you’re interested in providing thoughts about our progress and goals, or 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. We’re so grateful for your continued trust, feedback, and partnership, and are looking forward to progressing onward together as a community.