The 2015 Stella Count surveyed a total of 13 publications, including national and state newspapers, review journals and magazines.
The Count assesses the gender of authors reviewed, the gender of reviewers, the size of reviews, and the genre of reviews – and examines the ways these aspects intersect in review coverage.
Scroll down to learn about the new Stella Count survey, and to view the full results and pie charts for each publication’s data below, along with an analysis of notable points of interest from the results.
This year marks a new iteration of the Stella Count. We distributed a survey to female-identifying and gender-diverse authors who were reviewed in 2015 by the publications surveyed in the Count, inviting them to answer four short questions about their gender identity, sexuality, race and disability. This survey has now concluded, and the results can be viewed here.
Find out more about the rationale and resources behind this new development in the Stella Count here.
A 2015 study of the Australian Book Industry conducted by Macquarie University found that women make up approximately two-thirds of the author population. In trade publishing – i.e. non-academic publishing – the breakdown was 72% female and 28% male. There is no doubt that female authors are being published widely across all genres in Australia.
Despite this, all publications surveyed by the 2015 Stella Count reviewed more men than women – with the exception of trade publication Books+Publishing, which reviewed 65% female authors and 35% male authors.
The most marked gender disparity for authors reviewed was found in the pages of the Australian Financial Review Magazine, where just 17% of reviews were of books by female authors. Since 2011, AFR has reviewed a majority of male authors, giving them between three to five times more reviews. (77% male authors 2014; 85% male in 2013, 80% male in 2012, and 79% male in 2011.)
The remaining publications all favoured male authors in their review coverage – including the Australian Book Review (66% male, 34% female), the Monthly (65% male, 35% female),Weekend Australian (64% male, 36% female), Sydney Review of Books (64% male, 36% female), the Saturday Paper (64% male, 36% female), the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (61% male, 39% female), Courier-Mail (61% male, 39% female), Mercury (61% male, 39% female), West Australian (58% male, 42% female), Advertiser (56% male, 44% female), and the Sunday Age (51% male, 49% female).
The below chart shows the total percentage of several notable publications’ reviews that were of books by women, tracked over the past five years. Click to enlarge.
When the gender of reviewers was taken into account, the gender discrepancy is even more marked. As was observed in the 2014 Stella Count results, while female reviewers tend to review male and female authors with near-equal frequency, male reviewers are far more likely to review male authors than they are female authors. In most publications, reviews by men of female-authored books constituted between 4–15% of the total review coverage, even when the number of reviews written by male reviewers outnumbered those by female reviewers. As was the case in the 2014 results, men generally reviewed books by men two to three times more often than they did books by women.
At the Monthly, for instance, just 5% of reviews published were written by male reviewers about female-authored books. The proportion of other reviewer–author gender combinations was 30%, 30% and 35% (for females reviewing male authors, females reviewing female authors, and males reviewing male authors respectively).
At Adelaide’s Advertiser, just 4% of reviews published were written by male reviewers about female-authored books; 21% of its reviews were by men reviewing male-authored books, 35% were by women reviewing male-authored books, and 40% were women reviewing female-authored books.
Whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes, the tendency across review publications for male reviewers to review male authors rather than female authors perpetuates cultural biases that suggest that writing by men is universal, and writing by women is for women only.
The Stella Count data on size of reviews reflected a similar prioritisation of books by male authors. Publications that publish reviews in a range of different lengths tend to include one or two longer reviews – which run over 1000 words and are often the feature piece of criticism – in each week or month’s edition. Most publications devoted the majority of these long reviews to books by male authors, rather than books by female authors.
The Monthly published six times as many long reviews of books by men as it did of books by women: of its total reviews, 30% were long reviews of books by men but just 5% were long reviews of books by women.
The Australian Book Review published more than twice as many long reviews of men than of women: 56% of its total reviews were long reviews of male authors, while just 26% were long reviews of female authors.
The Weekend Australian’s figures were similar, with 41% of its total reviews devoted to long reviews of books by men, and 22% to long reviews of books by women.
In the breakdown of genres covered by reviews, men dominated nonfiction reviews across all publications – again with the sole exception of Books+Publishing, which reviewed slightly more nonfiction by women (14% of total reviews) than by men (10% of total reviews).
At the Monthly, 30% of total reviews were of nonfiction by men, while just 8% was of nonfiction by women. At the Courier-Mail, 27% of the total reviews were of nonfiction by men, while just 5% were of nonfiction by women (the fiction breakdown was more even: 33% of the total was fiction by women, 32% fiction by men). The Advertiser – which had one of the more even breakdowns of author genders overall – published twice as many reviews of nonfiction books by men than it did of nonfiction by women (22% and 11% of its total reviews respectively). The Age/Sydney Morning Herald published more than twice as many reviews of nonfiction by men than of women (36% and 15% of its total reviews respectively).
The Sunday Age had overall the most even distribution of reviews, giving roughly equitable coverage to fiction, nonfiction and children’s books by authors of both genders. It is notable that the Sunday Age has ceased its books coverage in 2016.
The aforementioned Macquarie University study found that 65.3% of creative nonfiction authors and 67.4% of other nonfiction authors were female. The fact that an imbalance in critical coverage persists, despite there being no underlying imbalance in authorship, creates and perpetuates the perception that nonfiction by males is more worthy of critical attention, in that it frequently deals with typically masculine topics such as war, history, economics and so forth.
Books with two authors or an author and illustrator of the same gender were included in this Count and logged under their shared gender. Anthologies and other books with both male and female authors or more than two authors were excluded from this Count. In all cases they made up less than 1% of the total data.
Every effort has been made to ensure these statistics are accurate, and any publication for which we were unable to obtain sufficient or reliable data has been excluded from the Count.
We welcome corrections or comment from publications, editors or reviewers. Individuals and organisations who wish to view the raw data of this Count can arrange to do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This information was compiled by the Stella Prize, with assistance from researchers at the ANU Gender Institute and with financial support from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
The Stella Prize wishes to thank the following for their help with the Count:
The analysis of the 2015 Stella Count was compiled by Veronica Sullivan, Stella Prize Manager.