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Last Modified: March 17, 2023
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Publishing: A Way Forward

by Netta Johnson

At the recent Association of Canadian Publishers Mid-winter meeting, the latest DEI survey results were released, showing very little change in the industry from five years earlier. The industry heads of firms are mostly white, straight, and women. To me, and probably to most, these results were simultaneously dismaying and unsurprising.

After several years in the industry, I know that it believes in and values diversity, and is looking for ways to include and represent everyone. The DEI survey shows that it has not happened yet, and so I appreciate the beginnings of a conversation as to how to achieve what we all would like to see. From my perspective, in order to achieve diversification in our industry, we will need to carve out seats at the table for start-up publishing houses owned by BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, or members of the disabled communities. That will also mean advocating for specific and consistent federal funding for them, as I know from personal experience that this is key to survival in the industry. After all, equity means not only being there, but making decisions, and acquisitions and other key decisions are made by heads of firms, where diversity is most needed and most challenging to create.

If nothing else, my experience as a start-up publishing house in the west has shown me clearly where the barriers are. Distribution for a new press is challenging, but by far the biggest barrier (which Stonehouse has not yet surmounted) is receiving Canada Council funding. Back in 2014, I did not realize at the time that Canadian Publishers exist in an industry mostly saturated by foreign (and mostly American books), and that 90% of the books sold in Canada are not Canadian. This means that independent publishers and presses are competing in short sales cycles in large bookstores, and without American celebrities to endorse their books. It is hard going out there, and the provincial and federal government funders are the ways that most publishers survive. Expansion is a hard proposition unless it comes with a specific change to funding.

After our first season of books was released in 2016, Stonehouse qualified for provincial grants but not for federal ones; since then we have not had sufficient funds to compensate even the primary position at this company, and being in the industry for me is about extending credit, trying to service debt, and hoping that eventually we will gain access to federal funding supports. To diversify would only mean to share work and indebtedness, and no one wants that.

Stonehouse’s experience, however, reveals quite clearly the main obstacle to any start-up press. How could a start-up press create/compensate positions and stay in business without access to core-funding from Canada Council? Without funding to new publishing houses owned by BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ or members of the disabled communities, the default option seems limited to waiting for people to move out of their current positions in mid-sized houses and trying to conscientiously line up a succession plan. I fear that at best, this leaves the under-compensated over-worked, and sometimes voluntary, internship positions as the primary point of diversification. The idea behind this approach is that years down the line, retirements will make those diversification shifts natural. Such an approach is understandable, but I fear it will delay the real change we are all seeking.

Every year, the ACP members collectively assess membership priorities and advocate those points to our funders. Most often, these priorities relate directly to what each member of the organization needs (funding, access to funding, survival); however to achieve our DEI goals, these priorities need to include advocating for a new program structure to ensure start-up BIPOC publishers, 2SLGBTQ+, or publishers can access reliable Canada Council grants.

For more discussion about the results of 2022 Canadian Book Publishing Industry Diversity Baseline Survey, read Jenna Butler’s response or Matt Bowes’ response


Headshot of Netta JohnsonNetta Johnson has always been taken with the written word, and in 2014, her passion for literature led her to take the rash step of opening a publishing house with her dear friend Julie Yerex. Over the years, Stonehouse Publishing has released acclaimed and best-selling books, and Netta Johnson continues as the Publisher/Managing Editor.

In 2022, Netta Johnson embarked on a new non-profit venture, and is currently the President of the Ethical Community Organizations of Edmonton, the new owner of a long-time Edmonton green grocer, Earth’s General Store.

In addition to her passion for books, volunteerism, and community work, Netta is a builder, a baker, a gardener, and an amateur mason. In her spare time, you will find her in her back yard with her chickens, building experimental pizza ovens.