Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK, suggests a solution to the prevalent concern about the abundance of publications in the market. As author voices are fighting over one another to be heard and discovered, he puts forth the claim that diversity is the key to discovery. In The Guardian article “Publishing Risks ‘Becoming Irrelevant’, Warns Penguin Random House Boss,” he says,
“We feel very strongly about diversity in publishing. For me it is a real problem when we don’t reflect the society we live in. It’s not good for books, or culture, or commercially. We are going to become irrelevant.”
Weldon advocates that the publishing industry has the responsibility to reflect the society of today as best it can. This can be done by publishing authors from various backgrounds and ethnicities. A study by Writing the Future describes the book publishing industry as “an old mono-culture” as the same voices from the same backgrounds are repeated and “new” voices are not representative of the diversity of today’s culture. LGBTQ, African, Asian, Native American, minority communities, and writers with disabilities are under-represented in the publishing world. If the members of society feel that they cannot identify with an author and subsequently that their voices and experiences are not being genuinely portrayed or represented, then the rift between publishers and consumers divides even further.
With an inadequacy of diversity, from experience or backgrounds, new books from the same authors become buried in the cacophony of other authors just like them. Weldon warns that this is a major problem for publishers and could lead to irrelevance and eventual collapse for publishing companies. The first step, he says, is acknowledging that the issue exists and that the audience cares about it. He compares the problem to the UK’s recent Brexit contention saying, “Whatever you think about the outcome of that vote, it was a very clear signal, not just to the publishing bubble, that voices are not being heard.”
More publishers are becoming aware of this issue and are trying to remedy it by calls for submissions from BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) writers. Penguin Random House has even taken to evaluating their staff requirements for qualification so that they can hire staff members with diverse backgrounds of expertise and experience as a furtherance of their new mission to publish a wider range of writers. Publishers have the capability of tapping into this potential solution to the problem of discoverability. The writers are not in short supply; they exist, and they deserve to be heard.
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