Why Are Ebook Start-ups Dominated by Men?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Related, a thoughtful response to the post below: There’s No Ceiling if You Start at the Top! Women in Digital Publishing and Tech

Tim Carmody, who writes for The Verge, noted that high-profile NYC publishing start-up Oyster was built by 8 men and not a single woman. Yes, that’s pretty typical, even though two-thirds of heavy book readers are woman and 80% of employees working for publishers are women.

So why are start-ups in publishing so dominated by men?

Well, first, this is true for most technology start-ups (as opposed to more conventional publishing start-ups) and tech start-ups *in* publishing like Oyster, Jellybooks (my start-up), Unbound, Wattpad and others are no exception.

Start-ups come with immense risks and often insane working hours. They attract the very young (you are considered “old” when you are in your 30s or 40s). Men and women in their twenties often have very different appetites for risk and different outlooks on what an acceptable work-life balance is (for a founding team work *is* life).

Another reasons is that early-stage tech start-ups are very engineering heavy and engineering and coding tend to be industries dominated by men. Maybe that has something to do with their introvert nature whereas publishing is a fairly extrovert industry. There are many superb female coders, of course, but they are sadly in the minority.

Design is becoming more and more important in technology start-ups, but this is often deisgn that is of the engineering heavy kind, requiring hands-on skills in front-end development, which, again, is an area currently dominated by men.

Once start-ups mature and need marketers, community managers and other more positions that have a higher presence of women, women become more visible in start-ups. Also, once a start-up has 20, 30, 50 or more employees it tends to be a more stable company with more predictable working hours and that seems to shift the male/female ratio significantly, too.

I would be remiss if I did not call out some of the exceptions, such as Liza Daily, co-founder of Threepress (now part of Safari Online), Virgina Murduch of Booki.sh (now part of Overdrive), Anna Lewis of Valobox (still independent) and Miral Satter of Bibliocrunch (another NYC start-up) — and I’m sure there are others. Sincere apologies to those ladies I’ve left out! Maybe somebody can compile a complete list?

Related: There’s No Ceiling if You Start at the Top! Women in Digital Publishing and Tech

14 thoughts on “Why Are Ebook Start-ups Dominated by Men?

  1. Pingback: Faber Factory 2013 – Why Are Ebook Start-ups Dominated by Men?

  2. Ian Lindo

    Don’t forget Kari Paulson at EBL – she built the best academic ebooks platform out there in 10 years.
    Maybe women are just more sensible? In that they realise success isn’t all about money and high profile and men are more drawn to the ego and the chase?

    Reply
  3. Jenny

    20-something techy guys will tend to hire or invite 20-something techy guys into their startup, it’s homophily, or an inbuilt tendency to identify with people like yourself. This just exacerbates the existing problem of too few women studying IT.
    It’s a shame because homophily works against creativity, which needs diversity to spark innovation. Jurgen Appelo writes about this in his book on Agile management, ‘Management 3.0’. It’s an argument for you to think hard about your recruitment habits at Jellybooks. Could you be hampering innovation by not looking for, or hiring, the unlikely candidate?

    Reply
    1. Andrew Rhomberg

      Hi Jenny,

      May I note that, sadly, I am not a 20-something, but a 40-something.

      I have made attempts to get woman interest in working at Jellybooks, but most of them have either no technical qualifications, which can be a considerable handicap (not everybdy can be a community manager, which given funding constraints is actually a function I still cover myself, along with accounting and other odd jobs ) or are not interested in working for start-up preferring more “stable” employment.

      I thought it worthwhile writing the post to highlight the issue.

      Andrew

      P.S.: I have read and I am a fan of “The Rare Find” by George Anders, see also http://pinterest.com/jellybooks/books-used-in-the-creation-of-jellybooks-com/

      Reply
  4. Richard Nash

    Two of the Small Demons co-founders are women: Hala Al-Adwan, our CTO, and Christa Stelzmuller, our Chief Architect. It’s something that we’re rather proud of. Conversely though, the reason Tim noted the issue with Oyster is because of the growing and appallingly belated realization how sexist and frequently misogynist the world of tech and engineering is becoming.

    Andrew, you personally, clearly have thought about this, but it is clear that in the aggregate Jenny is right, that people hire people like themselves, and that produces a vicious cycle culminating in the horrors of Pax Dickinson. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2013/09/controversial-cto-pax-dickinson-out-business-insider/69245/

    Reply
    1. Andrew Rhomberg

      Hi Richard

      thanks for the kind words

      I make an effort to think about why we don’t have a single female employee in our start-up (none has ever wanted to join) and woman heap scorn on me for thinking about it, trying to understand it and find a solution. Clearly I have hit a raw nerve here.

      The morale: I am damned for even thinking about it. The opinion out there is that I will only hire people like me:

      gay men in their forties with a science background who have lived in at least a dozen countries

      strangely enough:

      I am the only gay guy in the company
      I am the only one past the age of 40 in the company
      I am the only one who is single in the company
      I am the only one from a science background
      I am the only one whose mother tongue is not English

      but I have really, really been put off from making an effort to reach out and make an effort to get woman interested in this side of publishing

      as one lady put it “you have never worked on the editorial side, so you have no place in publishing”

      ouch! now retreating into my snail shell

      Reply
  5. Liz Nealon

    Ah…..DBW. The headline of this article reminds me of a quote from singer David Lee Roth back in the 1980s. “You know why the music critics love Elvis Costello and never write about Van Halen?” he asked. “Because the music critics all LOOK like Elvis Costello!”

    I suspect that a similar myopia is at play here. Let’s take a look around the digital publishing industry and some of the successful, female-led startups that are out there. Jane Friedman is the CEO and Co-Founder of Open Road, a leading eBook publisher. CEO Asra Rasheed partnered with television personality LeVar Burton to found RRKidz, digital publishing company based on the blue chip “Reading Rainbow” brand. Deborah Forte is Executive Vice President of Scholastic Media, a formidable new media venture from one of the most enduring publishing companies. Kristen McLean, Founder and CEO of Bookigee, is widely recognized as an innovative industry thought leader when it comes to technology, emerging consumer behavior, and new models of publishing in the 21st Century.

    You’re unfortunately right that venture capital does not flow to tech organizations funded by women. According to the Women’s Venture Capital Fund (www.womensvcfund.com), “Women are now the biggest emerging market: they control spending, bank accounts and personal wealth in the United States. High potential women are starting scalable businesses in record numbers, and yet a mere 7% of venture capital is invested in management teams that include women.” I’d venture to say that investors who only fund members of their own tribe are missing out on some big opportunities.

    One of the things that happens when a woman is at the helm is that we tend to build gender-diverse teams; we focus on developing individuals, building relationships and fostering collaborative environments—all strong leadership skills. I value my male colleagues and male co-founder, but I’m glad that we have multiple points of view at the table as we continue to grow our digital publishing organization. Our strength as a leading children’s digital publisher is grounded in the varying experiences and sensibilities of our team. Give me a gender diverse environment any day!

    Liz Nealon, Publisher & CEO, StarWalk Kids Media (@StarWalkKids)

    Reply
  6. Richard Pawlowski

    Well for one thing (from my research for my forthcoming ebook \Bogus Beauty & The New Power of American Women\), men objectify differently in our fantasies. Men fantasize about what they will make happen and women fantasize what will happen to them. We men tend to want to get things done and spend much more time in objective pursuits where we can see the results we fantasize about. Why this is important to men publishing more ebooks, it is now much faster for us to see some kind of results fro our efforts. Reality is, most men don’t know it – nor do women. It’s just the way it is. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Jennifer Stevenson

    It would probably be really helpful if you didn’t write an article about why women aren’t doing this or that…when you are a man. It just looks funny.

    I suggest you find a woman who is running a start-up to write this article for you. I could name three out of at least ten I know, if you email me privately.

    Reply
  8. Andrew Rhomberg

    I am confused by what you are asking for especially as DBW published this article yesterday:

    http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/theres-no-ceiling-if-you-start-at-the-top-women-in-digital-publishing-and-tech/

    Some of the scorn on Twitter suggests it was wrong of me to even write the article. Interesting!

    I make an effort to think about why we don’t have a single female employee in our start-up (none wanted to join) and woman throw the digital equivalent of rotten eggs and over-ripe tomatoes at me for thinking about it, trying to understand it and find a solution.

    The morale: I am damned for even thinking about it. The opinion out there is that I will only hire people like me:

    gay men in their forties with a science background who have lived in at least a dozen countries

    strangely enough, I am the only gay guy int the company
    I am the only one past the age of 40 in the company
    I am the only one who is single in the company
    I am the only one of Austrian nationality

    but I have really, really been put off from making an effort to reach out and find a female complement for the company

    as one lady put it “you have never worked on the editorial side, so you have no place in publishing”

    ouch!

    Reply
  9. Joan Mullally

    Speaking as someone who started publishing electronically online in 1996, and has performed every job in the publishing industry, from newspapers to magazines to books, the answer, as always, is, “It depends.”

    While it is true that like goes with like in some companies, it is also true that some people have a ‘start up’ mentality, and others prefer a more mature business. Some are visionaries, others are sheer dollars, cents and sense.

    When I first got started, I not only had to train myself, I had to train everyone else. In particular, I noticed a big difference between women’s attitude to technology and men’s. At the time I started in digital publishing, I was teaching in college; within a few months it was my second career, then my main one.

    I first started working with computers while I was in college-I took 1 term of computer science as a requisite course for maths I just needed to get done. As soon as I took the course, I could see there would soon be a difference in ‘haves and have nots’ that was no longer based on money, but on access to such powerful technology.

    As soon as I could afford to, I bought my own computer. I then earned money tutoring people on it, and wordprocessing dissertations to supplement my scholarship money. Later, when the college I was teaching in gave us the chance to buy a state of the art Apple with all the bells and whistles for a discount and pay it off monthly directly from our wage packet, I jumped at the chance. Everyone else wondered what on earth I would ever do with it.

    Then I taught everyone who expressed an interest in it. I used to lay out an entire 32 page newspaper supplement every week on it using Quark and had 20 students gaining skills that then led on to real jobs when they graduated.

    When we started teaching computers in the college, I volunteered to staff the new department. When I saw the make up of the class, 100 computers purchased, 98 men, 2 women, I asked if I could be allowed to run women-only classes because I could see the difference in learning styles and ‘issues’.

    When I was running my publishing house, I worked with both men and women. I managed to put together a reliable core group of women who are still friends and colleagues to this day, and we have grown together over the years.

    There were some men, but they lost interest after a time, or tried to start their own companies. So did many of the women, but none of our ‘rivals’, as it were, stayed in business for more than a few months. Why? Because in those days it was a lot of work for little reward-things skyrocketed with the Kindle.

    It still is a lot of work. Fortunately, the technology is now there to make our lives easier. The key element, I think, has to be passion. You can be technically wonderful at what you do, but if you are not passionate about the mission of publishing in order to spread the word about important topics in non-fiction, or entertain people through genre fiction, well, it shows.

    Kindle books, for example, have become the latest ‘internet gold rush’-‘write’ a book in an hour and throw it online, and make a fortune, according to people who sell courses on how to do it. I put ‘write’ in quotes because in most cases it means copy and paste, plagiarism, frankly. Then they post fake 5 star reviews and wait for the money to pour in. So if anyone can now publish a book, the aim needs to be quality, not quantity, and purpose, a reason for publishing besides just money.

    Finally, and sadly, look at the percentage of Americans that buy one book in a year-less than 30%. People who are drawn to publishing are usually going to be readers and writers. For the tech posts, though, they don’t really have to love books to sign on board. The excitement of front end development is great but I am dismayed at the number of (male) colleagues who decide the interface will do X, Y and Z but with no consideration as to whether those features will offer a superior experience for the end user, a reader in particular.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. I have become so used to being the only woman in the room in most meetings I guess I just stopped thinking about it.

    Reply
  10. Eric Hellman

    My observation is that senior men inside publishing companies are less technically savvy than senior women inside publishing companies. Perhaps this is related to the gender distribution of people leaving publishing companies for publishing startups.

    Reply

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