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In traditional publishing, female authors’ titles command nearly half (45%) the price of male authors’ and are underrepresented in more prestigious genres, and books are published by publishing houses, which determined whose books get published, subject classification, and retail price. In the last decade, the growth of digital technologies and sales platforms have enabled unprecedented numbers of authors to bypass publishers to publish and sell books. The rise of indie publishing (aka self-publishing) reflects the growth of the “gig” economy, where the influence of firms has diminished and workers are exposed more directly to external markets. Encompassing the traditional and the gig economy, the book industry illuminates how the gig economy may disrupt, replicate, or transform the gender discrimination mechanisms and inequality found in the traditional economy. In a natural experiment spanning from 2002 to 2012 and including over two million book titles, we compare discrimination mechanisms and inequality in indie and traditional publishing. We find that indie publishing, though more egalitarian, largely replicates traditional publishing’s gender discrimination patterns, showing an unequal distribution of male and female authors by genre (allocative discrimination), devaluation of genres written predominantly by female authors (valuative discrimination), and lower prices within genres for books by female authors (within-job discrimination). However, these discrimination mechanisms are associated with far less price inequality in indie, only 7%, in large part due to the smaller and lower range of prices in indie publishing compared to traditional publishing. We conclude that, with greater freedom, workers in the gig economy may be inclined to greater equality but will largely replicate existing labor market segmentation and the lower valuation of female-typical work and of female workers. Nonetheless, price setting for work may be more similar for workers in the gig economy due to market competition that will compress prices ranges.


This article was originally published in PLoS ONE, available at

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY 4.0).



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