Approaching One

Imagine a game. Let’s call it ‘Ping’. Ping is easy to play, at many different levels (so both genius and not-so can play and enjoy Ping), and takes no physical effort or dexterity. There many many different games of ‘Ping’.  It is widely popular and very cheap.

Writing a game of Ping is very much harder, slower and more demanding. Many try, but perhaps one in a hundred thousand players who try writes a good popular game, popular at least with some part of the very wide audience who share their level and interests. Getting into the Ping-production and selling industry is not nearly as difficult. But your work is Ping, and if you don’t love Ping, the salaries are mediocre to bad, and there is other work available.

Now: this is a statistical exercise… how should the ‘diversity’ of Ping writers and indeed the production and selling business stack up?  Given that there are no barriers to entry for either, and the game is popular with very nearly everyone. It’s quite a broad and varied game. No-one is trying to socially engineer the diversity or anything like that.

The answer is: writers at 1 per hundred thousand of the players will reflect (within a narrow range) the diversity of the players (unless there is some HUGE reason) So if there are 200 000 bald Catholics playing Ping, at least two of the Ping writers will be bald Catholics.   And if 1 in twenty thousand players want to be in the industry, odds are good there’d be ten bald Catholic folk there. No bias, no social engineering needed…

On the other hand if there are 50 bald Catholics writing the games, and 500 selling them… Or zero… or any other number that isn’t fairly close to proportional what the demographics of the players are, something is… odd, and needs to be looked at.

Now imagine that Ping is a rather private vice. You can’t know the number of players. BUT you can count the writers, and see what demographic they come from and the same with the industry-people. They should, coarsely speaking, reflect diversity in the representative proportion of the demographics of your players. If you want as many players as possible, you want that to reflect the demographics of your country. Not for the sake of social engineering, just that it means that everyone who can play, is. There is also, obviously a feedback: if people of a particular segment aren’t there, odds are, they will disappear from your customer base.

I’m simplifying this, obviously. Sometimes there can be reasons why a section of the demographic isn’t there or is over-represented. But it’s a great start to understanding this thing our social justice warriors don’t.  In this way, if diversity is representative it really means the industry concerned is strong and popular with everyone. You can translate this into any industry, from publishing to the restaurant trade. People may dine at any restaurant, but if they’re going to open one (and it succeeds) you’ll find it is often rooted in food they know best.

Books are a very private vice. And the industry desperately plows through its figures to work out what is hot and what is not – to no effect, because they’re not statisticians, and don’t employ the same to correct for differences, so they compare apples with apples, not – as they do, very small rocks with brontosauruses.

The answer lies in the demographics of their possible audience, as represented by the demographics of their writers and, indeed, their staff, as those staff choose their writers, without the benefit of any real meaningful numerical guidance.

So: how are they doing, you may wonder? Well, here you go: Numbers for publishers are collected and available on this site. I used the CIA factbook for demographics where possible.The optimal number for percentage for the publishing industry over the National demographic is of course =1. So for example (imaginary figures) the percentage of male employees was 50.1% and the US demographic for males was 50.1% = 1.  If Males in the industry were 75% the number would be 1.5 (or 50% more than naturally probable).   over =1 is over-represented, under =1 under-represented.

Race (they appear to have separated ‘Latino’ as a separate race)

White (not Latino – their definition 73-11%) = 1.2

Asian (read the list they include) =1.4

Black = 0.4

Latino (a bit iffy as they may be listed as black or mixed or white too) = 0.36

Mixed =1.03

Sex (I’m a statistician and biologist not a social scientist. I can’t be arsed to write about the 125 ‘genders’. Besides I can’t find any reliable demographic figures.  You can work it out if you like. I’m betting at WAY over 1)

Male = 0.46

Female = 1.48

Sexual orientation. (taking the total non-vanilla hetero proportion in the overall population at 5%. The figures vary wildly. 5 seems on side of generous caution, to a biologist anyway.)

Heterosexual ordinary = 0.85

Other = 3.6

If you subtract gay men from male tally you end up with around 19% out of 45% or  = 0.42. (So Heterosexual men are about as under-represented as black people)  If you assume that in line with the rest of the figures (not a given) roughly ¾ of those are white – 14.25%  = 0.51

I’m not even going to venture on ‘disabled’ or the bizarre intern figures where the sexual orientation figures hit a staggering = 9.8. That does bode well for the future being very representative, doesn’t it?

So: in short: some of the larger groups (whose representation is crucial to a healthy industry) just aren’t reading what they produce, because they’re not getting jobs there. It’s that… or there is massive discrimination, which will feed back into reduced sales.

Data on social factors such as education, social background and geographical origin and politics are sadly not there. But the usual scapegoats are in fact substantially under-represented.

Houston, they have problem. And far worse coming down the track.

25 comments

  1. Shame there is no correction factor for ” propensity to get on social media and raise hell about being abused, underrepresented, ignored,etc. ” we could call it ” virtue signaling aptitude. “

  2. you seem to be slipping into saying that it’s not healthy for players to play games written by people not like them.

    culture should be far more important than race. There was a time when Irish or Polish were considered significantly different races (and not really white), but today it makes far more difference what culture the person grew up in than the fact that they have Irish or Polish in their background

    Yes, the writers are usually a subset of the players, but when you get into ratios in the 1:100000 the number of writers becomes so small that doing statistics on them is meaningless, your sample set is just too small.

    1. Huh?

      The Wokes consider Irish and Polish “Whites”.

      Sorry, while the “culture” of a writer can be a factor in what stories he/she writes, generally the reader doesn’t mind their “culture” as long as it is a good story.

      The Wokes imagine that “whites” won’t publish or read stories by “non-whites”.

      Dave (like most of us here) don’t agree.

      1. Wokes, in fact, have claimed that they were never regarded as non-white and have all the usual insults for people who know they were.

    2. Nope. I am saying nothing of the kind David. I’m saying barring good reason, representative diversity is the natural state for any industry including writing. I’m not saying that there cannot be good reasons (i just don’t see them). The sample size is larger than that for many of the polls published. And representative diversity would yes, be representative of all aspects of the demographic makeup of the audience including culture.

      1. I disagree; culture has a big role.

        Certainly most industries don’t have representative diversity; some of that follows from that many industries have highly clustered (to give some areas I’m familiar with, optics, semiconductor, disk drives, automotive manufacturing, heck add trad-pub). Writing can be geographically dispersed, but I think it needs a nurturing culture.

        1. TonyT please give me an example where the representative diversity in a field does not reflect the demographic profile of interest in a field? – where there is no reason (for example interest in basketball does not translate into proportional representivity, because playing the game well has physical requirements, which are more common in certain sections of the demographic). Take your optics for example: you’ll find the people interested in it, using it extensively, doing their own research into the best closely mirrors the natural selection into the industry. There may be reasons why that is certain group or excludes others. But reading, writing and working in the industry, is very broad church. Basically you probably struggle to find readers with sub 70 IQ – not impossible, but there is a reason for less of them. But skin color or sexual orientation or sex make no obvious difference to the ability to read or enjoy books. Neither in general do cultures, degree of affluence, politics, religion, geographical origin. Yet… in publishing they do. Give me a reason why that works to benefit readers?

          1. I’ll admit to forgetting one part of your argument: that the practioners (e.g. writers, and maybe editors, etc) should reflect the diversity of those interested in the field (e.g. readers), NOT of the whole population.

            For jobs with a fixed location, geographical location is extremely important. Sure, a kid might love optics, and build his own telescopes. But if he lives in, say, Fresno, CA and wants to make make mirrors for money, he’s going to have to move (e.g., to Rochester, NY, southern CA, New Jersey, or Arizona). If you can’t move, or the jobs simply aren’t available (e.g. had a college friend who wanted to design hi-fi audio equipment on the US East Coast – yeah, right! – IIRC he ended up in aerospace), then that profession is not available. Jobs that severely underpay (like trad-pub editor?), or require lengthy unpaid internships/volunteering (e.g. I believe US Park Ranger) place different restrictions on who can do it (e.g. can afford to live cheaply).

            In theory, writing should have much fewer constraints, especially with indie publishing and the removal of many artificial barriers, so professional demographics are much more likely to match reader demographics (I don’t think it’ll ever match the demographics of the general public). While I’m skeptical that the ratios will match closely, I don’t see how we’ll ever know for sure. But I can image, especially with all the Chinese tiger moms around my area, cases where, say, a particular young adult loves to read but being an author is not considered an acceptable career choice.

    1. Years ago, I heard one minority guy talking about being admitted to a college and when he mentioned it to a Jewish friend, his friend talked about the “old quotas” where Jews were rejected by colleges because the colleges had “too many Jewish students”. 😦

      1. I’ve heard credible accounts that such discrimination has recently been encountered by Asian students at some institutes of higher education. Based on a belief that their consistently higher test scores give them an unfair advantage.

      2. And now it’s Asians there are “too many of” so they get rejected. And it bothers me, even if me and mine aren’t affected.

        1. Yeah, but mine are doubly disadvantaged (since they’re a Chinese/caucasian mix). Then again, they don’t want to go to “those” schools.

    2. TRX only in PC/SJW abuse of the word. (like ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’). What I am pointing out is that barring good reasons any open system comes to reflect the diversity of the population in the proportions that they occur in the population.

    1. Alternately, it may because most of the decision makers in the publishing industry are a small clique of upper-class women living in Manhattan.

      (Which isn’t to argue that your point is invalid. Harlequin should certainly be mostly female! But other genres that have traditionally been male-oriented are also mostly selected and edited by women.)

      1. If the major remaining genre is mostly read by women, then just that mix of genre might be a problem. Potentially, market demand for a genre could be killed by mis-supplying it. So the current mix of genres is probably an artifact of publishing history.

        Pulling in greater numbers of straight white male readers is more than a simple matter of writing books celebrating patriarchy and genocidal war against aboriginals.

        It may be closer to what you would need to pull in more hispanic or black readers.

        It comes to mind that academic navel gazing angst is not escapist reading for a man of physical activity. When J. Random Roughneck wants a break from the oilfield, or the problems his kid is having in school, he probably does not sit around pining for the MA he never got. What is it that he can’t do in real life, that he wants to do and can imagine doing in fiction?

        Isekai Light Novels. a) Wish fulfillment for the stressed out Asian highschool student, who maybe wants to feel good about the sort of thinking they can already do. b) They have some fantasies of intercultural communication that I suspect are relevant for just about everyone, excepting maybe the folks that think upperclass educated* are the same everywhere.

        There is probably an unfulfilled need that can be turned into money.

        *I think Bill Reader used the term Brahmandarins.

  3. As was observed on a recent essay on Quillette, there’s been a noticable narrowing of the National Book Award. Time was that people won it without even having been to college. Now you have to have a MFA or the like.

  4. There are also feedback systems, though, and reasons that people who work in the “industry” as editors in particular, don’t naturally reflect the demographics of the readership. You have to be able to live without depending on your pay if you live in New York and go into a field that uses a lot of unpaid or underpaid internships that only people from a certain economic class can afford. That’s a whole lot of journalism, publishing, etc. I don’t have any real objection to societal double standards that mean that it’s acceptable for women not to feel responsible for being a primary breadwinner while a man must, but it’s still a real thing and has an effect.

    No matter how much people complain about how sexist the industry is, people who actually work in it end up defending themselves suchly – how can you say we’re biased against women when we’re almost all women? And the truth is that they’re biased for women, they like what they like, and they buy what they like, and now we’re told that boys and men simply don’t read. The boys who don’t read aren’t likely to grow up to be men who write.

    So we’ve got carts and horses attached back to nose and tail to front in a circle going around.

    And then, to top it all off, we have “good for you” books assigned in school. And since when has school ever created a reader? School is more likely to create a book avoider, often an extreme compulsion to book avoidance.

    I recall several years ago reading about a “get black kids to read” program that was started by a black woman who was a teacher. And what stood out and stuck with me is that she said her daughter’s favorite books were Artemis Fowl. She thought that was a problem but sadly confessed that all the books with black girls in them were depressing horrible things. The sorts of “good for you” books they give you to read in school. It was a problem in her mind that her daughter who wanted to imagine adventure needed to read books about a white boy or be stuck with books about how depressing it was to be a black girl. And frankly, that really is a problem.

    But it’s another place where someone doing something creates a feedback system. Book choice for children doesn’t happen organically. Book choice for children is directed. And kids who view reading as a punishment or a depressing slog through a depressing story them instead of an escape to wonder and triumph fighting dragons, aren’t going to grow up to write books.

    Tolkien, right? Nope, Chesterson. “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

    And it’s very fashionable these days to scorn heroes and scorn killing dragons.

    So who’s going to be writing books 30 years from now? And who’s going to enjoy reading them?

Comments are closed.