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The core audience for publishers is white and middle class, there is an ‘inability to reach diverse audiences’ and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) working class audiences are undervalued by publishers.  These are among the findings of the UK’s first academic study on diversity in trade publishing and fiction.

‘Rethinking Diversity in Publishing’ is the result of a partnership between Goldsmiths University of London, the writer development agency Spread the Word and The Bookseller magazine.

The report talks about the assumptions publishers make about about audiences.  ‘The core audience for publishers is white and middle-class,’ it says.  ‘The whole industry is essentially set up to cater for this one audience. This affects how writers of colour and their books are treated, which are either whitewashed or exoticised in order to appeal to this segment.’

The report found that there is an inability of publishers to reach diverse audiences.  ‘Publishers claim that they would like to reach more diverse audiences but do not know how to, or are reluctant to expend resources on doing so’, it says.

BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic)/working-class audiences are undervalued by publishers, both economically and culturally, the report maintains.  ‘This in turn affects the acquisition, promotion and selling of writers of colour.’

The report discovered that across the acquisition process, ‘publishers found that publishers fear that books by writers of colour are too niche and will not appeal to their core audience’.  It concluded that this has ‘implications for the selection and the treatment of writers of colour’.

The report is based on interviews with more than 110 professionals in the publishing industry who were asked about their ‘practices and experience publishing writers of colour’.  Among calls to action, the report urges publishers to ‘value and engage directly with BAME audiences’.  It says that to make publishing more diverse, publishers need to learn to value non-white, non-middle class audiences’.  It needs to hire more diversely, particular people who belong to ‘marginalised communities [who] will help publishers tap into new audiences – but only if staff are given the resources and freedom to do this work without being burdened to speak for these communities’.

Finally, it talks about the need to develop strategic alliances, noting that there are a number of writing agencies and audience engagement practitioners that publishers can use to reach new audiences.  ‘Publishers need to invest in establishing long-term partnerships with these organisations to find and develop talented writers of colour, bring them to publication and to audiences’.