2016/03/28

How Big Publishing Bias Drives Indie Growth

Bias

Is widespread political bias in big publishing enforcing a blacklist against openly conservative and libertarian authors?

A few years ago, I would have greeted claims of publishers rejecting and blackballing writers based on ideological differences with skepticism. Sure, Manhattan, where all the big publishers congregate, has a pretty left wing culture. But these people are in business to make money. Surely they can be adults, put their prejudices in their back pocket, and exercise enlightened self-interest when it comes to signing and promoting authors.

I really believed that New York publishers put professionalism ahead of politics. In fact, I had enough faith in their objectivity to send them manuscripts on multiple occasions.

Only recently did I learn that my earlier trust in big publishing's impartiality was utterly wrong.


A very surprised looking sperm whale and a bowl of petunias

Back in 2014, Dave Freer ran a statistical analysis on the outcomes of past Hugo Awards by political affiliation. In terms of the awards' impartiality, the results can only be called damning.

Look – political viewpoints in any society are described by a Gaussian (aka bell-shaped ) distribution curve. 
For the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards,’ to be true, then this distribution of political viewpoint would have to be true in the winners, and in the nominees. There is no reason why should not be if the system were fair and unbiased in any way.
For the purpose of this proof I’ve chosen a very generous 0.15 (or 15 out of 100 or 15%) as the proportion of any population who are likely to be loud, fervent, open supporters of the ideology of the left, or the same on the right. In reality, the loud fervent part makes the figure much smaller.
We have fifteen red billiard balls (outspoken left wing) fifteen black billiard balls (outspoken right wing), and seventy white billiard balls. And we have an imaginary Johnathan Ross to draw 5. (Don’t worry. He’s imaginary, any fat jokes he makes will be about imaginary fat, the best kind.) And we make the poor beggar time travel back to 2005.
So in ten years… I’ve given up on the sperm whale of nomination likeliness. There is doubtless a parallel universe somewhere that in the tens of millions of possible where that level of red ball selection would, by pure chance, happen. When you start adding the other categories –shorts novellas novelettes — into it, it just gets worse. You need that infinite improbability drive. But in 10 years the 50 nominations should be 7.5 red, 35 white, 7.5 black. – if that tested out, with reasonable error bars, the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards’ would be true. As I make the figures 27 red, 21.5 white, and 1.5 black…*
Shall we look at this year [2014], when thanks to the sad puppies there were at least possible black balls to chosen as winners? Not much use in selecting years when there weren’t any. Let’s just stick to writing. Graphics and movies and art and editors aside… Novel, novella, novelette, short, and fan writer – 5 categories, a roughly 1/7 chance of a red or black ball winning in each if there is no bias.
All red balls. 1/7x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 – this is likely to happen once out of every 16807 years* if there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. Wow! Aren’t they LUCKY.
*Emphasis mine.

Hugo asterisk
Takes on a hole new meaning.
You could make the objection that the Hugos are awarded by the voting members of Woldcon, independently of any major publisher. Sadly, you'd only be half right. It ain't a coincidence that Tor Books has won twice as many Best Novel awards as any other publisher since 1986, has the majority of Long Form Editor wins since the award's inception, and that the Tor.com Reviewers' Choice List has been a reliable predictor of Hugo nominees for years.

Tor author John C. Wright has flat-out said that a highly placed individual inside the publishing house confided in him that a clique from Tor Books exerted tremendous influence over the award process. This is less of a wacky conspiracy theory than it sounds, since before Sad Puppies, the contest could be decided by a few dozen votes.

Yet even if an award process controlled by publishing bigwigs honors ideology over merit, perhaps their political bias doesn't influence their business dealings with authors.

And perhaps Twin Peaks had a coherent ending.

Twin Peaks
!kcor s'teL


Red vs. blue

The other day, Larry Correia linked to an eye-opening study that breaks down various professions by political affiliation.

Guess where book publishers fall on the political spectrum.

Actually, you don't have to, because I'm happy to present the study's results for you. Red = %Republican. Blue = %Democrat.

publisher politics

Gee, I wonder if book publishers let many Republican novelists into their liberal pillow fort.

Author politics

...Oh.

Well, surely there's a reason why solidly liberal gatekeepers don't sign many conservative authors besides rampant institutional bias. Perhaps conservatives are too busy managing landmine factories and interviewing illegal alien gardeners to write fiction. We all know that only liberals have what it takes to produce real art, anyway.


Besides, there's no evidence that the few conservatives good enough to make it in NY publishing receive less than fair treatment, right?


Nick Cole gets banned

An old boys' club controlling awards is one thing. Ideological discrimination that affects authors' reputations and livelihoods is orders of magnitude more serious.

Just ask Nick Cole, whose A.I apocalypse book CTRL ALT Revolt! was recently dropped by Harper Voyager. Long story short, Nick wanted to think up a new reason for A.I.s to terminate humanity and came up with the highly original idea of having them watch a reality TV star choose to terminate an inconvenient pregnancy, thus raising the logical question of what humans as a whole would do if they discovered the potentially inconvenient existence of A.I.s.

For this novel yet chillingly plausible masterstroke, Nick was called on the carpet by his editor, who not only found his characters' motivations personally offensive, she claimed that half of his readers would as well.

Setting aside the Harper editor's gross exaggeration of how many people disagree with Nick, the number of readers who are closed-minded enough to shun his work on ideological grounds is even less significant. Perusing the book's reviews will turn up several readers who admit to not sharing Nick's beliefs yet still enjoyed his writing.

CTRL ALT Revolt!
When the metal ones come for YOU
As Nick told me in a recent interview, he also used to think that big publishers were basically whores who could do business with ideological opponents. The CTRL ALT Revolt! incident taught him that NY publishers are actually zealots who will push their ideology, even if it comes at the expense of their business.

Which, as I shall now demonstrate, it most certainly does.


Big five, big dive

If NY gatekeepers' claim that conservative viewpoints alienate half of readers is true, then their predilection for publishing liberal authors should mean that their market share is growing, or at least holding steady.

Our friends at Author Earnings have much to say on that subject.

Author Earnings - 2016 market share
Source: February 2016 Author Earnings Report

The five largest publishers now account for less than one quarter of Amazon eBook sales, while indie authors represent almost half of the market.

Quite a reversal of both parties' fortunes. But how does it affect authors?

2016 Author Earnings
Source: February 2016 Author Earnings Report
 The earnings gulf is even wider. Big Five published authors have less than a quarter of the eBook royalty pie between them. Indie authors are taking home about half of it.


Conclusion

There are many reasons for NY publishers' declining sales, such as their relatively low publishing frequency, narrow selection, and prohibitive eBook prices.

But considering the certain proof of systemic political bias--one which is in fact at odds with 70% of the US population, it's getting harder to avoid the conclusion that big publishing's ideological fanaticism is driving readers away from them and into the open arms of indie, and reader-centered publishers like Castalia House and Baen.

The possibility doesn't exactly discourage me, seeing as how I publish two indie books of my own. People seem to like them.

Nethereal

Souldancer

There were times when I questioned my decision to self-publish, but institutional abuses like the Hugo controversy and Nick Cole's blacklisting leave me more sure than ever that I chose correctly.

Even if I make less money, working to please my readers instead of publishers who hate them--and me--more than makes up for it.

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