Women write about two thirds of all the fiction books published in Australia. Yet books written by men are still more likely to be reviewed in the Australian mainstream media. The situation is changing, but very slowly.

The 2016 Stella Count surveys twelve Australian publications – including national, metropolitan and regional newspapers, journals and magazines – in print and online. The Count assesses the extent of gender biases in the field of book reviewing in Australia.

In order to do this, it records the authors, book titles and book genres reviewed, as well as the gender of reviewers, and number and size of reviews published.

For the first time, the 2016 Stella Count also surveyed non-review literary coverage, broadcast reviews on radio and television programs, and cover-to-cover bylines in leading magazines and journals.

For the first time, all twelve of the publications surveyed in the 2016 Count either increased or maintained the percentage of women authors they reviewed compared to the previous year. But the good news ends there.

  • Across all publications in 2016, books by men were more likely to be reviewed by men, and books by women more likely to be reviewed by women.
  • Gains in the reviewing of books by women have been made mainly in relation to small- and medium-length reviews. The long reviews, the feature reviews, are still largely written by men.
  • Of all the titles reviewed in 2016, nonfiction books by men were reviewed more often than any other gender/genre combination – at 28% of the total reviews.

I’ve seen articles where the editors of these publications try to justify their decisions. We have to review the important books, they say. Which of course begs the question – What makes for an important book? Who decides that? It’s too hard to find women book reviewers, they say. Which is one of the reasons behind the establishment of the excellent Australian Women Writers Challenge. Men pitch their reviewing ideas to us more often, they say. Which is just one more instance of putting the onus on women to change their behaviour, instead of thinking about how to change an unfair system.

While the overall figures may be trending in the right direction, unfortunately it is the biggest players in the market who are making the least progress.

  • The Saturday Paper and Weekend Australian magazine routinely favour male writers over women, with women writers accounting for only 35% and 37% of these publications’ total number of bylines respectively.
  • The Monthly’s book-related essays were dominated by coverage of male authors (75%).

Kudos to the Stella Count for tackling this issue. You can read their full report here. The Stella team are also looking at the issue of diversity (or lack thereof) in Australian publishing. See this article in The ConversationDiversity, the Stella Count and the whiteness of Australian publishing.