A study of 2 million books confirms female authors' suspicions: Women-authored books priced 45 percent lower


A paper published in the journal PLOS One analysed three types of gender bias - segregation by book genre, the different value placed on these genres, and the difference within these genres.

Many writers I have interviewed have noted that books by women, about women, for women, are often written off as “chick lit”. They tend to be devalued by publishers - in terms of lesser signing amounts, lower prices, fewer copies, lower compensation - and now, a study of more than 2 million books substantiates their claims.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, a spunky Indian author whose books touch upon themes of ageism and sexuality | Picture for representational purposes only

A study of such titles, published in North America over a decade between 2002 and 2012, has confirmed the gender bias in the publishing industry. According to the data, collectively, the pricing of books by female authors was about 45 percent lower than that of male authors.

For this study, the researchers -  two Queens College-CUNY academics, sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner - firstly, confirmed the gender of the authors of each of the books by running it by repositories of typical male and female names, and then, after segregating them into their respective categories, took stock of the prices, genres, and publications of the books.

Their paper, published in the journal PLOS One, found that female authors tend to gravitate towards genres that fall into lower price brackets like romance, whereas the genres men usually author books in (like science) are generally higher priced. But, digging deeper, when the researchers further analysed the pricing of male and female-authored books within the same genre, the price gap persisted, at roughly 9 percent.

"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. We expected that taking account of the first two discrimination patterns would knock out any remaining differences in prices within genre. The within-genre price difference (9 per cent 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," says Weinberg, according to this TOI article on the issue.

The authors even delved into the pricing of self-published and independently published titles, and confirmed that the gap definitely got narrower in such cases, but a small disparity remained - at 7 per cent over all, the Guardian reported. When it came to data within the same genres, once again, the difference was negligible - but existed nonetheless, at 4 per cent. This sits well with the findings of studies that women tend to undersell themselves, as they are not taught to recognise their true worth, and that this steeps into all their interactions, right from seeking a fair salary to gunning for promotions.


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