Stella Count: Women write twice as many books as men, but receive less than half the reviews

2016 Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood leads an impressive field of Australian female authors that far outweighs the ...

2016 Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood leads an impressive field of Australian female authors that far outweighs the number of reviews of books by female authors published in Australian titles Photo: Daniel Munoz

The Australian book industry is a women-friendly place. With 67 per cent female authors, it is up there with teaching, nursing and social work as a profession heavily skewed towards women. 

Yet, despite those odds and the vast female market for books, Australia's media world remains out-of-step and slanted in precisely the opposite way: for every female author that is reviewed in our press, the work of nearly three males is reviewed. 

This year's Stella Count, conducted by the team behind the annual Stella Prize for literature, awarding the published work of female authors in Australia, has found that just 39.3 per cent of all book reviews across 13 leading Australian publications in 2015 were about books written by females.

Percentage of reviews of books by women authors in selected publications over the past five years

Percentage of reviews of books by women authors in selected publications over the past five years Photo: Stella Prize

Faring poorest of the publications vetted was the Australian Financial Review Magazine, published by the owner of this site, Fairfax Media. There, a slim 17 per cent of reviews were of books by female authors. According to the Stella Count, its reviews featured 77 per cent male authors 2014; 85 per cent male in 2013, 80 per cent male in 2012, and 79 per cent male in 2011.

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Best in show was trade publication Books+Publishing, which reviewed 65 per cent female authors and 35 per cent male authors in 2015. It was the only title that came close to reflecting the true make up of the industry, giving women authors more space than men. 

All remaining publications, including Fairfax Media's Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Sunday Age, and the Saturday Paper, Weekend Australian, West Australian, Sydney Review of Books and Australian Book Review, all gave more weight to male authors in both regularity of appearance and length of reviews. 

Authors reviewed by major Australian publications in 2015

Authors reviewed by major Australian publications in 2015 Photo: Stella Count

Drilling down into who wrote what about whom, male reviewers tended to review male authors, with around about a third of female writers the subject of male reviewers. 

"Whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes," writes Veronica Sullivan, Stella Prize manager, "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."

None of this may come as a surprise to the Stella team. For the last five years, the Count has reflected a similar trend towards male bias - and for a majority of notable publications, the numbers of reviews of books by women have dropped in the past year. 

It's not all unhappy endings. The Sunday Age, Weekend Australian and Books+Publishing all reviewed more females in 2015 than they did the year before, and a new Stella Count Survey announced with Sunday's 2015 results will unpick the gender identity, sexuality, race and disability of female authors, giving us a fuller picture yet of how we stand as a diverse nation of book lovers.