American Publishers’ New Initiatives: Sustainability, Diversity

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The Association of American Publishers is opening new committee-level development projects in both climate-related sustainability issues and diversity-focused interests.

A California wildfire’s smoke near Santa Clarita in 2016, the Sand Fire. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Attila Adam

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pallante: ‘Change Management’
Following its board’s recent vote, Association of American Publishers today (November 19) is announcing that it’s expanding its public policy purview to embrace “industry-wide work in the areas of climate and sustainability” as well as “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

While many will welcome the framework’s new focus in both areas, of course, it may be particularly gratifying to some to hear that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are being highlighted in this way. (They’re referred to in many English-language corporate and humanitarian settings as “DEI.”)

As Publishing Perspectives has reported several times, the United Kingdom’s counterpart to the AAP, the Publishers’ Association, has been in the world book business’ vanguard on this, and not for a short time. It implemented its 10-point “Inclusivity Action Plan” in 2017 and has now renewed its determination to move forward with a second round of five-year targets.

By February of this year, the UK’s Publishers Association could report that, “Over half of executive leadership and senior management roles are held by women—52 percent and 55 percent respectively. This compares to 49 percent and 41 percent in 2017.”

And that is one of the gold standards of the DEI effort, in gender parity terms: bringing executive leadership for women in publishing to or near a level with that of men—particularly in an industry that has been surveyed to have a workforce that approaches 80-percent female.

None of this is meant to berate the American publishers in light of their British colleagues’ efforts. Every world market in publishing is different. And not to be cute about it, the United States’ market is “more different” than most. Its last five or six years in national and international politics alone tells us this, of course, let alone its comparative size, complexity, and impact.

Nevertheless, many observers in the American field have wanted to see the coherence of a coordinated approach—even a national-level development of what responsible DEI gains look like in such a sprawling, layered market and industry. US publishing’s staffers have, in many cases, led the way in demonstrating the growing need for this.

These moves also bring the AAP closer to the work of the International Publishers Association (IPA), which has led its member-organizations in more than 70 countries in programs based both in diversity issues and the climate and sustainability.

We’re not in a position to define what tack the Association of American Publishers (AAP) will or should take, of course. But for the many concerned about the industry and these factors, the announcement that this project is taking shape will help make this a good Friday, one on which to commend AAP’s president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, board chair Brian Napack, and board members for this new approach.

And the recently concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP 26, needless to say, helped sharpen the focus on Earth’s climate crisis and ways in which the international book business, both scholarly and the trade, can and does relate to it.

The two-pronged positioning of book publishing relative to climate change is striking: The business bears its share of the industrial world’s responsibility to come to grips with what effects its work may have, at the same time that books and scholarly publishing are also among the primary channels of delivery for critical writings, research, and debate on these issues.

Napack: ‘Global Footprint’

Maria A. Pallante

“Throughout history,” says Pallante today, “the publishing industry has been instrumental to distributing knowledge and empowering human progress.

“By focusing AAP on diversity and sustainability challenges, the board is not only acknowledging the potential impact of change management within its own ranks, but also acknowledging its responsibility to future generations of publishers, authors, readers, and leaders.”

Media messaging from the AAP says that the organization’s renewed focus on its policy portfolio and corresponding resources has been led by Napack, the Wiley president and CEO who was elected to chair AAP’s board in September 2020.

At Napack’s direction, the board formed working groups in both diversity and sustainability, “bringing together representatives from across the trade, education, and academic publishing sectors,” the association says, to review potential pathways forward and make recommendations.

“With its broad industry role and global footprint,” Napack says, “the AAP is well-positioned to amplify the important work that publishers are doing to advance the critical causes of global sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Today’s announcement affirms the publishing industry’s deep commitment to the promotion of a healthier and more equitable world—and the recognition that we must collaborate to achieve maximum impact.”

Points of Implementation

At the One Nation Rally for civil rights in Washington, October 2010. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Diane 39

Beginning in 2022, the news media are being told today, AAP will assign new staff members to each area, people who will work with member-companies and partners “to facilitate industry-wide information, tools, collaborations, and programming, and to advise AAP’s leadership on short- and long-term objectives for the publishing ecosystem.”

Two working groups—one on climate and sustainability and the other on diversity, equity, and inclusion—will be made committees within the AAP governance structure. As such, they’re to be opened to additional participants from the membership, and charged with advising and contributing to industry objectives for both categories.

The association offices in Washington also remind us today that its leadership has been working toward these new initiatives for some time.

John Sargent

In climate and sustainability, AAP’s previous chair and longest-serving officer John Sargent, the former Macmillan CEO, “was instrumental in prioritizing initial board discussions on sustainability and convincing the industry’s leaders to convert values into action items,” per the association’s communications team.

And of course, many AAP member-houses have taken steps to study and/or limit their impact on the environment and preserve resources “by embracing renewable energy, recycling, using fewer resources, reducing waste, and decreasing carbon emissions related to their offices, company operations, manufacturing, and transportation.”

In diversity, equity and inclusion, “Many AAP houses have created new executive positions” to lead progress. They’ve “measured and publicly shared workforce demographics, conducted publishing audits, added diverse publishing imprints, and rolled out best practices implementing DEI principles and cultural sensitivities in content, particularly with regard to nonfiction and educational materials.”

“Throughout the early months of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding racial injustice uprisings across the United States,” the association says in its statement, “the publishing industry helped to serve a tremendous reader demand for both fiction and nonfiction titles promoting racial justice and inclusion.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Association of American Publishers is here. More from us on climate change and crisis is here, more from us on issues in diversity, equity, and inclusivity is here, and more on the United States’ book publishing industry and market is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner to the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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