The 2014 Stella Count Redux focuses on two new publications whose weekly book reviews generate much public interest, but which have not been included in previous Stella Counts: The Saturday Paper and Sydney Review of Books. It was compiled with assistance from Books+Publishing.
The Saturday Paper’s book reviews section has been the topic of heated debate since the paper’s inception in 2014. The decision to employ fabricated pseudonymous initials in place of the names of reviewers, has been a particular target for controversy, attracting praise and criticism in equal measure. This factor was also the major reason why The Saturday Paper was excluded from the main 2014 Stella Count, released in August; without knowing the gender of reviewers, little meaningful data could be collected. However, for this Stella Count Redux, The Saturday Paper volunteered the necessary data, including the gender of their reviewers.
Sydney Review of Books is the first online-only publication to be surveyed in the Stella Count. Its inclusion recognises that a great deal of significant Australian literary criticism takes place in non-traditional spaces, and beyond the boundaries of the major printed newspapers and review publications.
Findings from a Macquarie University survey of Australian authors, published this month, show that women make up two-thirds of book authors. And yet, at both the Sydney Review of Books and The Saturday Paper, the gender of authors reviewed is an almost exact inversion of the overall gender ratio of authors in Australia. At the Sydney Review of Books, 64% of reviews were of male authors; while at The Saturday Paper, 63% of reviews were of male authors.
As was the case with many other publications discussed in the 2014 Stella Count analysis, in the Sydney Review of Books and The Saturday Paper, male reviewers were far more likely to review books by male authors than they were books by female authors. At The Saturday Paper, the gender breakdown of reviewers was 60% male, 40% female. Exactly two-thirds of The Saturday Paper’s reviews by male reviewers were of books by male authors, to one third of books by female authors (40% and 20% of the total reviews, respectively).
At the Sydney Review of Books, 59% of reviewers were male, and they were more than three times as likely to review male authors as they were to review female authors (reviews by men of books by men comprised 46% of total reviews, while men reviewed women just 13% of the time). Female reviewers made up 41% of the website’s reviewer base, and the authors they reviewed were more evenly distributed: 23% of the total reviews in the publication were by female reviewers of female authors; while 18% were by female reviewers of male authors.
The figures yielded by a study of genres reviewed were skewed towards male writers. At The Saturday Paper, 32% of reviews were of nonfiction books by males, while just 12% were of nonfiction books by females. Reviews of male fiction writers constituted 32% of the paper’s total reviews, while female fiction writers still lagged significantly behind, making up 23% of the total reviews
The genre breakdown of Sydney Review of Books reviews was similarly lopsided. 33% of total reviews were of nonfiction by male writers, while 12% were of nonfiction by female writers. Fiction reviews were more evenly matched (19% female; 24% male). Sydney Review of Books also had the greatest proportion of poetry reviews of any publication surveyed in the 2014 Count: 7% of their total reviews were of works by male poets, while 5% were of works by female poets.
At The Saturday Paper, large reviews were more than two and half times more likely to focus on books by men than by women (23% and 9% of the total reviews, respectively). The paper’s medium reviews were also skewed towards books by male writers, though less severely: 40% of the total reviews published by The Saturday Paper in 2014 were medium reviews of books by men, compared to the 28% that were medium reviews of books by women.
Like many other Australian review publications surveyed in the 2014 Stella Count, both Sydney Review of Books and The Saturday Paper publish more reviews written by men about books by male authors, and privilege coverage of nonfiction by men over that of women.
We thank both The Saturday Paper and Sydney Review of Books for their transparency, and for their willingness to engage with the ethical issues of gender representation in their book reviews sections.
The Saturday Paper and Sydney Review of Books have cooperated extensively in the collection of the data analysed in this Count Redux, by providing thorough review indexes to ensure accuracy of information collected. This is a significant action, and is applauded by the Stella Prize. (See the Sydney Review of Books editorial from editor Catriona Menzies-Pike for the publication’s comment on its results).
Though there is still much room for improvement – as demonstrated by both publications’ results – the initiation of a conversation about accountability on the part of publications and editors is a vital step in redressing gender disparities in Australian reviewing culture.
The Saturday Paper published its first edition on 1 March 2014; this count, therefore, surveys its book reviews from 1 March to 31 December 2014. In the case of Sydney Review of Books, this count surveys reviews from 1 January to 31 December 2014.
Books with two authors or an author and illustrator of the same gender were counted under their shared gender. Anthologies and other books with both male and female authors, or more than two authors, were not counted.
Every effort has been made to ensure these statistics are accurate. We welcome corrections or comment from publications, editors or reviewers. Individuals and organisations who wish to view the raw data of this Stella Count Redux can arrange to do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prize Manager and Stella Count Coordinator