The publishing industry in the United States is huge and doing quite well. According to a new report by Research and Markets, the U.S. publishing industry has grown to more than 2,600 publishing houses and about $25 billion in annual revenue. Paperbacks are still the most popular format, and the areas of greatest growth are in children’s and young adult books.
Although this is a far rosier picture than we see in the newspaper industry, where digital disruption has completely decimated the industry, there is one area where the U.S. book publishing is still lagging behind. And that’s in the number of diverse books being published for children.
In 2015, the Cooperative Book Center examined 3,500 titles in children’s literature. What they found was revealing.
The characters in children’s books overwhelmingly reflect the dominant culture. In these 3,500 books, only 5.1% of the characters were African-American; 3.2% were Asian Pacific American; 1.9% were Latino American; and a paltry 1.1% were American Indian. When you add these numbers up, you get 11.3%. Yet, these groups comprise about 37% of the total U.S. population and even higher percentages when you look at the number of children of color attending K-12.
What can account for this disparity in children’s books and literature?
It’s basically a diversity perception gap in publishing. A survey taken in 2015 of the people who work in publishing found that nearly 80% self-identified as white. At the executive level, the percentage jumps to 86% and 82% in the editorial departments. No wonder the Cooperative Book Center found that, on average, of all the children’s books published annually, only about 10% can be classified as diverse. According to this survey, even the book reviewers are overwhelming white at 89%.
Books for diverse audiences, especially children, need to be culturally relevant. It can’t be business as usual where the vast majority of published books basically ignore large swaths of…