Study: Publishers sell books written by women for less than those written by men


Originally published at:


Is there a segment of society this trend isn’t mirrored in?


They say that women need to be better at advocating for ourselves and our worth. I find it interesting to note that even in professions like acting and writing, where the use of an agent is common, the wage gap still never closes. Like it’s women’s fault for not asking for more but if a woman has a male agent why isn’t he asking for more on her behalf? Since agents get paid based on how much they can get for their clients why aren’t they asking for more? I know for a fact that Rowling doesn’t play that game. Why should JD Robb make less than male authors she outsells?


Yeah, I’m sick of people saying that, too. Historically, one way to get around it is to hide your true identity. Unfortunately, that’s only possible in few professions. Writers are also expected to market their books and make personal appearances, so that method might not work well in the long run, unless you can afford to hire a male stand-in.


I’m tired and cannot tell if the post is referring to the cover price of the books, or the money paid to authors for their manuscript, or perhaps their royalties.


The article is about cover prices. Publishers use both an author’s sales and earnings to set advances and who to publish. Publishers set the cover prices. Either readers are unwilling to pay the same for Sue Grafton as for John Grisham, or publishers are undervaluing women.


Looks to me like the cover price of the books. Which, when lower, would also result in lower royalties. Assuming royalty rates aren’t also generally lower for women – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are. Wait, that’s even less money for women!




Yeah, I’m always confused when people actually say that about actresses - weirdly, even the actresses themselves seem to say it - given that’s exactly what agents are for. Are actresses only allowed “lady agents” who are women who only rep women?

There was a special section in the NYTimes some while back, where they interviewed a number of women and people of color in Hollywood (actors, writers, directors) about their experiences. What really struck me were the stories about how people like agents, who should have been their advocates, instead were absolutely part of the machinery that maintained the status quo and actively beat down their expectations. It was disturbingly clear that if you weren’t a white man, your agent wasn’t going to make the same demands they would make for one.


Must be a US thing; I don’t recall noticing any difference between men and women author’s books’ cover prices in the UK, unless it’s hidden by who gets hardcovers and trade paperbacks for first editions, and who gets the paperbacks first.


In fairness, it might just be a matter of supply…



That really rules out the whole “lean in” nonsense here.

For what it’s worth, the most respected/feared literary agents I’ve heard of have been women.


That’s not what the article says:

But even after accounting for these differences, they found that prices for authors with identifiably female names were 9% lower than for male authors.

They were 9% lower when controlled for by genre; as opposed to being 45% lower. That’s not the same as going up by 9%. (Going up to would be accurate.)

Interestingly, there was also a self-imposed price gap:

The study also looked at self-published, or independently published, titles over the same period, finding that when authors priced books themselves, there was far greater equality between the genders – although there was still a price gap of 7%. Inequality was also seen within genres for self-publishers, at 4% compared with the 9% for traditionally published books.

“Without the publishers, we see slightly less discrimination, but it’s still apparent, and it follows the same patterns,” said Weinberg. “The easy answer [for the disparity] would be that publishing companies are sexist, but the indie findings challenge that simple explanation. The findings point to the strength of shared social contexts. Likely, publishers and authors share many of the same unconscious biases about what genre specialties are appropriate for male or female authors and about the value of those genres, and indie authors may also be mimicking what they see in the traditional publishing world. In addition, both traditional publishers and indie authors are creating and reacting to markets for their work, or to their perceptions of those markets, and placing and pricing their titles accordingly.”


Oh, for fuck’s sake look at the error bars on that thing.


For most authors at a given publisher, base royalty rates are pretty much fixed and hard to negotiate. Very successful authors can get extra payouts in the form of bonuses and escalators for reaching certain sales thresholds, such as a position on the NY Times bestseller lists. Cover prices are (in my experience) determined by a formulaic spreadsheet that calculates the printing costs, editorial costs, production expenses, expected marketing and publicity costs (small for everyone except top-name authors), expected print run, and so on and so forth.


The original paper says:

The book price refers to the maximum price aggregated over all formats.


A lot of Steel’s novels are, like the traditional Harlequin romance, quite short, and therefore relatively cheap to print. (I should say that I’ve worked as a proofreader on more than a few romance novels, and in more recent years, as the category has become more mainstream, it seems that this has changed somewhat).


Yoy seem to be implying that sexism isn’t the real issue here.

Is that indeed what you’re getting at?


Well I’m always on the lookout for a bargain, but if I have to read girl books I dunno. I wonder if they have cooties?


And look at the max prices! It would be interesting to know how much this is skewed by the “bizarrely astronomical price” sector being dominated by men.