Are Entry-Level Jobs Disappearing in Publishing?

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.

. . . .

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

4 thoughts on “Are Entry-Level Jobs Disappearing in Publishing?”

  1. You know, I graduated from a top tier school (in 1975) with an exotic humanities degree (Comparative Mythology –long story–) and had a father who was willing to send me to graduate school (I could hear him over the phone from a thousand miles away crossing his fingers hoping that I wouldn’t take him up on the offer).

    Whereupon I made one of my first consequential adult decisions. I didn’t know much about a real job market, but I wasn’t afraid of it (other people got jobs and I was sure I could, too). What I did have were some necessary facts. (1) There were only 2 schools from which I could get an advanced degree (though I had little idea what sort of work went into that), and they weren’t appealing (Bloomington IN and UCLA), and (2) More importantly, I was at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I knew there would never be tenure for me in such a limited focus academic expertise. So why waste my time and my father’s money on what amounted to a vanity project?

    I didn’t go to college for explicit career prep (law, medicine, advanced studies/research) — I went to get an education, and (when I bombed out of advanced math) seized the opportunity to broaden my civilizational background in languages, archaeology, humanities, etc. I’ve never regretted it. My primary career took care of itself, since I wandered into early tech stuff in the usual way (though I started as a hedge clerk in a metals trading firm — all experience is good).

    All this to say…. WHY ON EARTH DO THEY THINK SOMEONE OWES THEM A JOB? WHY EXPECT INCOMPETENT BUSINESSES TO OFFER USEFUL CAREERS? WHY BE SO INFLEXIBLE ABOUT THEIR CAREER POSSIBILITIES?

    If the publishing companies want to pretend they’re making intelligent hiring decisions, let them bear the financial consequences (which they’re already doing, as they long since bore the consequences of not being able to attract techies to modernize their systems.). But why is there so much learned helplessness that sends recent grads down a black hole of a career path? That sort of internship isn’t a job; it’s willing slave labor. Is peer status worth that much masochism? What for? Is it the result of a lifetime of passivity (if I groom well and behave, someone will marry/support/reward me)?

    And if it’s in service of an eventual authorial career, the biographies of the authors they love must surely tell them that great work doesn’t by and large come from MFA or equivalent backgrounds.

    There were certainly plenty of women (it’s typically women) like this in my own generation, but they usually had family money support for their vanity project approach to a career, and felt little necessity to turn that down and make their own way (there was always the prospect of marriage or Daddy to rescue them). With predictable results.

    Reply
    • Amazon started a “small” 3% staff cut. But with a 300,000 head count, that’s 10,000 leaving.
      https://www.channelnewsasia.com/business/amazon-lays-some-devices-unit-staff-it-targets-10000-cuts-3078136

      Of relevance to the ongoing “AI” topic:

      “While Amazon has toiled to encode intelligent answers to any question Alexa might expect from users, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp-backed OpenAI have had breakthroughs in chatbots that could respond like a human without any hand holding.

      Dozens of individuals posted on the professional networking site LinkedIn to say Amazon had laid them off, among them people who claimed to work on privacy for Alexa and software for the company’s cloud gaming service Luna.”

      Belt tightening in the low performing areas.
      Alexa is popular enough to endure but Luna and Amazon games are at risk,if not now by spring.

      Reply
  2. The real problem is not “owed a job” or not.† The real problem is what recruitment that is split between low pay and no pay does not to low-level employment, but to those promoted into lower-level and mid-level management. Bluntly, trust-fund kids as a group are lousy managers, both of projects and of people, and worse yet epitomize the Dunning-Kruger Effect. As an expert-witness accountant said to me a couple decades ago in a royalty-dispute matter, “A zombie couldn’t get a good meal from the entire management at [name of imprint withheld]! Did they really think any of this wouldn’t be obvious?”

    † Nobody gets to bitch to me about that. My first job after college paid less than a Catholic-school elementary teacher in a big city, my uncle made me dress funny, I had to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, and I my benefits package included being shot at.

    Reply

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