Big five poetry publishers in the UK: a gender audit
This post follows on from the last one. Seeking an explanation for the gender imbalance in the Saturday Guardian Review’s poetry reviews, I’ve done a much bigger exercise, an online gender audit of the big five poetry publishers: Bloodaxe, Cape, Carcanet, Faber, Picador. Plus a very quick count for Salt and Seren.
It’s more complicated to do than you might think… Instead of putting the results up front, I’m going to explain the methodology first. In detail!
The audit is based on information from the publishers’ websites, occasionally supplemented by Amazon searches when data was missing or unclear.
It covers books published between January 2010 and end April 2013. (I chose Jan 2010 because it’s far enough back to give plenty of results, and happens to be the start date for the first Guardian audit, though of course publication and review dates don’t coincide.) It counts books published, not poets. So if one poet has had 2 books out in that period, he/she gets counted twice.
Reissues and reprints are included (alternative: spend endless hours identifying them!) but not Kindle-only editions or hard/paperback duplicates etc. No title should be counted twice.
I excluded poets who died before 2000 (may have missed a few), notably Faber’s backlist, apparently all-male since Jan 2010 apart from Sylvia Plath. I included contemporary poets who have made versions of something old (whether Rimbaud or the Anglo-Saxons). Contemporary translations are counted for the originating poet. Straight translations of dead-before-2000 poets are omitted (yes, there’s a grey area). Anthologies are not included.
I would expect the results to be broadly accurate, say within a couple of percentage points either way. Maybe they’re better than that, but I have almost certainly missed things out, and counted things I shouldn’t have (such as the occasional book from Carcanet or Bloodaxe that isn’t poetry, though I tried to weed these out). Publishers’ websites may not always be accurate; the first Faber search I tried left out two recently published first collections.
If any publishers would like to get in touch about their results, I’d be delighted to hear from them. I’m particularly unsure about the results for Cape as I couldn’t find a full list of their poetry books on their website and have had to rely more on Amazon. The Random House website has been down for hours, so I haven’t been able to check the figures again as I have for the others.
Total books published
41% (41 books)
59% (60 books)
64% (14 books)
36% (8 books*)
69% (62 books)
31% (28 books)
77% (36 books)
23% (11 books)
Cape NB: QUESTIONABLE DATA
89% (16 books)
11% (2 books)
61% (169 books)
39% (109 books)
Bloodaxe are so far in front with their remarkably strong female representation that it seems unlikely any of the others would come close, even with revised figures. I had no idea they’d come out this strong. Is it deliberate editorial policy? Are they snapping up a surplus of good women poets, who aren’t getting picked up by the other majors? Because Bloodaxe publish a lot of books, they have a large and positive impact on the total figure for the big five. All hail to Eric Bloodaxe!
Picador are the only other publisher to score over one-third books by women. Picador’s website has a page listing their current poets – 13 men and 8 women (62% and 38%), well over a third. Not bad at all.
I’d expected Carcanet to do better – they don’t quite make one-third. I recognised a much higher proportion of the Carcanet women’s names, which made me wonder whether their list includes some male poets who have been with them for many years.
I was shocked that the percentages of women are so low for Faber and Cape – under one-quarter. Faber’s 11 books by women are by only 8 poets. I don’t have the same name recognition issue as with Carcanet, either. Cape’s figures look appalling, but I don’t trust the data. Cape do have other women poets on their list who haven’t published in this period (and other men, of course): I found Jean Sprackland, Anne Carson and Vicki Feaver.
I’m sure people with more knowledge of poetry publishing than me will have views on how to interpret the figures – please comment.
As for the Guardian Review, whose reviews’ gender imbalance started all this off… Even if one accepted (most unlikely) that it was OK to review poetry books mostly from the big five, the Review would still be in the doghouse for having a gender ratio (25% books by women in the last year) that reflects the bottom end of the publishers’ table. Why??
To cheer myself up, I had a quick look at Seren and Salt.
Salt’s ratio over 131 books (poorly date-sorted by their website) came out at 64% to 36% male to female, same as Picador; not bad, but I’d expected better.
Seren did cheer me up, though; 30 books, 53% by women, 47% by men. Hooray! This is how things are in most poetry magazines, etc: roughly 50/50, so that no-one need waste time and energy thinking about it.
The Guardian Review didn’t run any reviews of Salt or Seren books last year.
I didn’t try to audit UK black and Asian poets; I don’t think I could do this with enough accuracy to make the results credible. From the work I’ve just done, I’d guess that Cape and Picador have published none in that period; Faber only Daljit Nagra; Carcanet a handful; and Bloodaxe quite a few. Maybe the Arts Council does an audit of those poetry publishers it supports.
As some commenters on the last post pointed out, various other areas of the poetry world are worth auditing for publisher, gender and racial bias. It can be difficult to disentangle these; having gender figures for the main publishers ought to help, as in the case of the Guardian Review above.