From The Independent Publishing Magazine:
You’re a recent literature graduate or someone pivoting in their career who wants to acquire an entry level publishing position. However, entry level publishing position requirements far exceed entry-level. You continuously encounter entry-level positions, with meagre pay, that require or implicitly request previous experience. Phrases like ‘3-5 years of publishing experience required’ or ‘contracts experience is not necessary but highly valued’ are a familiar advert.
Unfortunately, this job advertising strategy is commonplace in both the US and UK, and indicates that despite its low pay and entry level categorization, genuine entry-level is rapidly disappearing within publishing. A recent analysis of over 95,000 job postings found that 61 percent of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees required at least three years or more of experience. Even in 2014, economic studies showed that employers were raising experience requirements for entry-level positions within the US in response to the Great Recession that made entry-level positions scarce. Today, the acceleration of this employment tactic is apparent in many advertised publishing positions, requiring not just a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but equivalent experience to boot.
Many struggle to enter the publishing industry as ‘organizations transfer the competitiveness of the industry into the selection and hiring process of entry-level talent, which can be seen as unrealistic and limiting,’ says Lọ́lá Béjidé, an early careers strategist and founder of the Soluman Consultancy. Interindustry competitiveness produces a Catch-22 scenario; people struggling to enter the publishing sector must do so by obtaining work experience, but cannot gain work experience as they are unable to enter the industry without it.
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Internships are one avenue through which many try to obtain publishing work experience. But publishing internships are scarce, many unpaid, impeding lower socio-economic people from obtaining work experience to enter the industry. A 2021 Publisher’s Association report indicated the socio-economic demographic within publishing remained largely middle-class and continued ‘to represent major barriers to inclusion’. 74 percent of respondents had a ‘middle class’ determinant, compared to only 55 percent in the UK population. The persistence of unpaid internships or poverty wages within publishing not only exploits its workers, but bars ‘graduates from poorer backgrounds, whose parents [could not] afford to subsidize their experience’. Consequently, the publishing landscape is manufactured to produce an inequitable playing field that prohibits, as Béjidé describes, ‘individuals from ethnically diverse communities as well as those from social economically challenging environments’ from entering the industry at all, despite publisher’s woefully insufficient diversity schemes.
One could argue that if the industry allowed only paid work experience, it would decrease the amount of work experience aspiring publishers could obtain. It is a pervasive industry myth that while many publishers cannot afford to pay interns, the experience interns gain is sufficient enough to get their foot in the door. However, this assessment does not consider that unpaid labour does not increase the likelihood of work experience for the average person looking to enter publishing, but rather produces a socio-economic stratification. Publishers reliance upon unpaid labour under the guise of creating a proliferation of industry ‘opportunities’ is more exploitative than it is altruistic as ‘companies can save money by using interns to do that work without having to pay junior employees…the more interns a company has, the fewer entry-level jobs it’s likely to open’. When asked if they had ever felt overwhelmed by the workload of their unpaid internship, a Scottish interviewee, 23, replied:
Yeah 100%. Because they didn’t give us set working days or hard deadlines it was difficult to balance the many tasks we had to do. They told me I’d have to commit to 12 hours a week but it wasn’t set days. And also they gave us multiple tasks so some weeks two would be like expected of you so there’d be weeks I spent more time or less time at the internship and that overwhelmed me, it would’ve been easier to go into an office two days a week to do as much work as possible in your 6-hour shifts then come home and that was it, done with till the next week.
The interviewee knew their tasks were beyond the scope of internship work, stating that they were involved in multiple lead roles such as lead editor for a book, proofreader for two novels, representative for two authors as well as their events coordinator and a stage reporter for multiple books. A 20 hour job, dissertation and extracurriculars precluded marketing duties.
Even in contexts in which interns are paid, many have reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work demanded of them. An American interviewee, who has been struggling to break into publishing beyond entry-level work for three years, described how their initial internship was more than they knew they were getting into, especially for the pay provided. They were offered a full-time position, however, a previous employee of the company discouraged them from taking it due to the exploitative nature of the press.
I didn’t end up taking the position with [publisher] but even as an intern…I didn’t think minimum wage was enough; after the person I was reporting to left I was basically the only editor that was working full-time. There was another intern working with me but she only worked full-time two days a week. I was doing the work of an intern and of the editor and most of the time it was completely overwhelming; I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I were to have taken the position.
Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine