Black and white

"Cultural diversity is both a moral and a commercial issue . . . the moral arguments for cultural diversity are backed by strong economic incentives. The advertising industry estimates that black and Asian communities have an annual disposable income of £32bn. The brown pound, as it has been termed, is clearly a force in the market. Savvy companies are aware of the opportunities that only a truly diverse workforce can spot.”

Not my words, but the sentiments of The Bookseller’s former editor, Nicholas Clee, writing in The Bookseller‘s 2004 supplement In Full Colour. It was published in association with Decibel, a one-year Arts Council England project charged with changing the arts landscape forever. Back in 2004, The Bookseller found that publishing was “largely a white, middle-class industry”, where black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) publishing professionals (and writers) felt marginalised and excluded from the networks that mattered.

So how did we do? Ten years on, there is not one BAME executive running a major UK trade publisher. This week’s UK Top 50 chart features just one writer who is not white. Of the major literary prizes awarded since 2004, six have been given to a black or Asian writer—though of these only two were British. Moreover, since Aravind Adiga won the Booker in 2008, no black or Asian writer had won one of this country’s top literary prizes until this year, when Kei Miller picked up the Forward Prize. In The Bookseller this week, there is not one picture of a BAME publisher, agent or bookseller — except, of course, on the very pages where we address this issue. Ten years on from In Full Colour we remain, as a sector, monochrome. If we were aware of the opportunities, as Clee suggested back in 2004, then we failed to grasp them. 

There are positives. Our understanding of what a diverse workforce means is more sophisticated than it was. And here publishing scores more highly. Publisher open days are beginning to sell the sector to those outside its normal orbit, while digital has forced the industry to look beyond traditional skill-sets. Similarly, those businesses — and people — working for change feel more embedded than they were, from Creative Access (which The Bookseller has benefited from working with, alongside numerous publishers) to Equip, which has been given fresh impetus with backing from the PA and the IPG.

Meanwhile, arts organisation Spread the Word is undertaking a new survey into diversity in publishing, led by Danuta Kean, who edited In Full Colour. The results, to be announced at LBF 2015, will make intriguing reading. More has changed than we might think, but far less has been achieved than we hoped.