On voting with one’s wallet

 

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source: Death to the Stock Photo

These days, I find myself more and more disillusioned. And, as is the case with other disillusioned people, I often oscillate between deep, dark depression, and destructive, blinding anger. Today is one of those days, and I am on the rampage.

 

What is it that I’m angry about? Diverse books, surprisingly. Or rather, what we’re doing about the lack thereof.

They say that publishing is getting more and more colourful and representation of non-WASP protagonists is on the rise. They say that editors and publishers are aware that there is a market out there for diverse books and they’re doing their bit to promote stories that feature non-stereotypical depictions of minorities. We even, *gasp* get accurate racial representations in movie adaptations… sometimes.

Then, every once and again, something happens. Someone puts their foot in their mouth, or an article goes viral, or someone does a particularly enlightening panel which then goes viral… and then we get the hashtags, and the social media campaigns, and reams and reams of think pieces that usually lead to this bottom line: We need more diversity in publishing. Vote with your wallets! (I should know. I’ve written quite a few such think pieces myself.)

Here’s an uncomfortable question, though: What if we can’t?

Or worse: What if we do, and it’s still not enough?

According to Voices of the Library, over 10% of UK public libraries are under threat. Aside from buying a book from a reputable reseller, borrowing one is the only other legal way for people to read diverse books (and I think we can safely agree that that pirating them won’t help the case with publishers.) As for the resellers themselves, whether you find the book or not depends on a helluva lot of factors, which include, but are not limited to:

  • copies ordered
  • shelf placement
  • how far you actually live from a store, or
  • whether the search engines on your online reseller of choice allow you to browse freely

Then there’s the matter of how the book is presented, if the copy is interesting, if there are reviews online, and if so, what are they (and if you actually know where to find said reviews, and you care for them), if the price is right, and if you can afford it.

No matter how many emotional appeals we make for diverse books, a matter of fact is that access to them is still limited, and that’s a symptom of a much bigger problem. Yes, many of us would like to vote with our wallets, but that won’t really happen in any meaningful way if we treat diverse books like rarities, shelving them away and pricing them like something impossibly precious, and giving them the sort of hush-hush publicity only connoisseurs would understand.

Diverse books are books. They need to be accessible for people to enjoy as much as any other novel. Marketing them as niche won’t break down barriers to entry – in fact, it does quite the opposite.

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