Publishers failing BME readers

<p>The emphasis on promoting literary fiction risks neglecting demands from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) readers for mainstream genres such as inspirational memoirs and children&#39;s books. That was one of the conclusions of a seminar run by The Bookseller and The Reading Agency (TRA), exploring new partnerships between publishers, libraries and retailers to expand the BME market.</p><p>Samenua Sesher, director of the Arts Council-backed Books For All and Decibel campaigns, argued that BME readers were being targeted with the wrong material by publishers and the media. Literary novelists such as Salman Rushdie and V S Naipaul were not popular with the majority of BME readers, she said. She also cautioned against &quot;too much division&quot; and specialisation of product or marketing when tastes are wide-ranging: &quot;The complexity of our multiple identities has to be in the mix.&quot;</p><p>Research by TRA and HarperCollins estimated the value of the UK BME books market at &pound;120m and rising. It has a more female and younger profile than the overall UK book market: out of 500 book buyers questioned, 72% were women and 52% were under 35. Over a third of panellists described themselves as &quot;heavy readers&quot;, getting through more than 10 books a year, and 56% of them shopped in W H Smith (compared to 39% of UK readers overall).</p><p>The research revealed a growing demand from BME readers for non-fiction and children&#39;s books. The market is led by literature based on the lives of &quot;strong role models&quot;, such as Constance Briscoe, David Beckham and even Katie Price (Jordan).</p><p>The most popular genre was crime, mystery and thrillers, with 52% of BME panellists choosing titles from this category. There was also room for growth in the saga, romance, health and spirituality areas, which BME panellists were often ordering from America. Literary fiction was cited by only 26% of respondents.</p><p>Amanda Ridout, m.d. of HarperCollins, said the findings were a &quot;major cry out to the publishing industry&quot; to address the lack of diversity and representation. &quot;Publishers must act like cultural tourists to find mass appeal products and look beyond the literary genre,&quot; she said. &quot;We need to source and encourage new voices.&quot;</p><p>Statistics show that despite the fact that 45% of the BME panellists have young children, more than the UK average, they are buying fewer books for children. Vivian Archer, owner of the Newham Bookshop, said while picture books are being addressed, there is still a lack of diversity in titles for seven to nine year-olds. Debbie Hicks of TRA said the findings &quot;debunked a lot of myths&quot;, such as assuming that a BME audience was seeking literature set in a &quot;familiar culture&quot;.</p><p>The panellists were no more likely than average to use setting as a motivation for choosing a book. This also applied to their interest in books written by BME authors, which only affected 22% of the panel&#39;s decision.</p><p>The consensus was that publishing companies needed guidance from libraries over how to reach new readers, after it emerged that 72% of the BME panellists were active library users, with a quarter borrowing weekly and a third monthly.</p><p>Linda Saunders, chief librarian from Sandwell Library, said publishing output was slow to change and she regularly faced complaints of &quot;inaction&quot; from library users. But she added: &quot;There is a huge appetite to engage and demand is waiting to grow.&quot;</p><p>Sunny Hundal, editor of Asians In Media, argued that recent media controversies over BME writers such as Monica Ali and Gautam Malkani wrongly focused on their &quot;authenticity&quot;.</p><p>Mary Fitzpatrick, the BBC&#39;s diversity executive, said the publishing industry urgently needed to broaden its staff intake to represent and reflect changing readerships. The point was accepted by Penguin&#39;s group marketing and publicity director Joanna Prior, who emphasised the opportunity for positive action to diversify companies.</p>