Last year, Ashgate Publishing officially closed after it was bought out by the larger company Informa, owner of the Taylor & Francis publishing house, in 2015.
The company opened its doors in 1967 and was based in the United Kingdom, with an office in London as well as a US-based office in Burlington, Vermont. Ashgate Publishing produced over 14,000 titles related to social sciences and arts and humanities and had its own publishing imprints, Gower Publishing and Lund Humphries by the time it closed.
The competition between family-owned businesses and large corporations is nothing new, and for some in the publishing industry the buying and subsequent closure of Ashgate Publishing embodies the ever-present issue that many employees face when larger companies buy out smaller ones and the effects such mergers have on the industry as a whole.
Many fear that as small and independent publishers close or are absorbed by larger corporations, diversity in publishing will be negatively affected. The publishing industry is one that is notorious for hiring white employees and publishing white authors. In fact, according to Publisher’s Weekly about 79 percent of the entire industry is white. Publishing is also dominated by women, with about 82 percent of the people working in the editorial departments of book publishing made up of white cis women.
Of the “Big Five” publishers (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster) only three participated in this particular survey on diversity in the industry. Statistics such as this beg the question: without small publishers, what will happen to the larger industry?
Small publishing houses offer a wider range of acquisitions editors looking for a wider range of manuscripts, and therefore help represent a greater range of voices. When independent presses close they limit the pairs of eyes on the lookout for new and innovative ideas, leaving only the large corporations with money-making agendas calling all the shots.
We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) is an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in publishing, “recogniz[ing] all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” The nonprofit is working to change the publishing industry by focusing on getting more diverse books published, although WNDB has also created an internship program finding placements for candidates with varied, and generally more diverse, backgrounds. Publisher’s Weekly states that in 2015 WNDB’s internship program “placed five interns, at Hachette, HarperCollins, Lee & Low, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster,” giving a more diverse array of interns the opportunity to work in an industry that is historically known for being predominately white.
There are some small and independent publishing houses which choose to publish only books that are considered diverse, such as Cassava Republic, Rosarium Publishing, Jacaranda Books, Lee & Low/Tu Books, Agate Publishing, Yali Books, Riptide Publishing, Shade Mountain Press, and Interlude Press. According to Read Diverse Books, publishing houses like these are devoted to “promoting writers of color, LGBTQ narratives, and women’s stories.” Although some large publishing houses may promote a few diverse books or authors, these smaller businesses are completely devoted to these kinds of publications.
Diversity, of course, includes so many factors it’s difficult to keep track. Publishing houses like Ashgate, for example, promote scholarly works and academic books, whereas other houses like Graywolf publish specifically nonfiction works. The smaller and more independent the publisher, the more niche and more diverse the books they can publish.
An article written for The Atlantic states the problem with large publishing houses perfectly, pointing out the need for “editors and publishers […] to fight for every moment of planned reading” and how “readers are experiencing a shrinking cultural attention span” because of it. When these houses buy the smaller houses, not only are they potentially putting dozens of people out of work, but they are diluting the diversity of voices in publishing because their own agendas—usually centering around publishing as many bestselling novels as they can—don’t change.
Large corporations will never stop buying up smaller ones, but organizations like We Need Diverse Books and Read Diverse Books are doing what they can to ensure that even the biggest publishing houses expand diversity in their books and their employees.