Friday, January 29, 2016

A Gender Tax on Books?

In all the distractions of the holidays, you may have missed news of the report issued last month by the New York Consumer Affairs Board detailing the "gender tax" women pay on typical consumer goods. Entitled From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer, the study compared the prices of products in five categories—toys and accessories; children's clothing; adult clothing; personal care products; and senior/home health care products—and found that in New York City, girls and women were charged on average 7% more for similar products than were men. 42% of the time, women's products costs more than men's products; only 18% of the time did products for men cost more than those for women.

Seven percent might not sound like an awful lot, but small percentages add up over the course of a lifetime of purchasing. According to a 1994 study  cited in the New York one, a study that focused on gendered services rather than products, women "effectively paid an annual 'gender tax' of approximately $1,351 for the same services as men." Paying more for services, paying more for products, and earning less because of the gendered gap in wages, women are given the short end of the financial stick.

The report made me wonder whether there is, or ever has been, a "gender tax" on books. Mass market books aimed primarily at women (aka romances) don't cost more than those aimed primarily at men (spy, adventure, etc.), a cursory glance at pricing suggests. But might the gender tax come not at the back end (charging the consumer), but rather at the front end (lower advances and royalty rates for the producers)? The still unresolved class action lawsuit against Harlequin Enterprises, arguing that the company created Swiss subsidiaries so that it would not have to pay its authors the royalties they were contractually owed for ebooks suggests as much. It might also explain why the price of lesbian romance is generally higher than that of conventional romance: lesbian publishers, in a move counter to the sexist drive to charge women more, are not gouging their consumer, but rather more fairly compensating their (primarily female) creators.

The New York Consumer Affairs Board is promoting a social media campaign, asking people to report instances of gendered pricing differences on twitter, at #genderpricing. And I'd love to hear from you here, if you see now (or have seen in the past) gendered price differences in mass market fiction.


  1. Interesting article. I'd always assumed that lesbian fiction was more expensive because of its smaller catchment area, as it were.I shall certainly look out for any examples of gender pricing from now on

  2. Ah, that's interesting, if not ANNOYING. The other day I watched a very interesting documentary about the indoctrination in advertisement and entertainment for girls to be hipersexualized and superficial. Watch it and spread the word: it's an eye opener.

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