Book trade’s next generation fear burnout and low pay will force their departure

From The Bookseller:

Young people in the book trade are experiencing widespread burnout and dissatisfaction about pay and progression, a survey by The Bookseller has revealed. The results also indicated that more needs to be done to make the industry accessible and that, though most respondents are largely satisfied in their current roles and hoping to stay in the industry, retention is a rising concern.  

The bulk of the 238 people who completed the survey, which was aimed at book trade staff aged 25 and under, worked in publishing (86.5%), with agents accounting for just over 10% of respondents and booksellers accounting for just over 2%. The remainder hailed from the distribution, library and freelance sectors. When asked why they pursued a job in the industry, the vast majority cited a love of books and a desire to work in a creative field. Others highlighted the opportunity to make a cultural impact, with one distribution worker wanting to “be part of making a change with [regards to] diversity in the book world”. 

In terms of entering the industry, more than half of the survey respondents found it “fairly easy” to find out information about the trade and the job roles available, but more than 40% had found this either “fairly” or “very” difficult. Furthermore, it was “fairly” or “very” difficult for over 80% to actually get a job in the book world. Common reasons for this included: huge competition for vacancies, unrealistically high expectations for “entry-level” roles, a lack of transparency about the industry, geographical constraints and the pandemic. 

One respondent shared: “Even when you have transferable experience, you could be applying to entry-level, low-paid roles and hearing nothing back for well over a year… It can feel impossible.” The pandemic compounded this, as some companies paused hiring or internship schemes, while competition increased as experienced candidates who had been made redundant were also going for junior positions. 

The first step

Several responses highlighted that “entry-level” roles regularly require applicants to have extensive work experience. According to one agent, publishers “expect more and more every year—now, even for junior positions, you often have to do two interviews and time-intensive tasks”. One publishing staffer felt that “the job hunt is harder than the job itself”, which was echoed by someone with a Masters in Publishing who confessed of their qualification: “I don’t need this to do my job at all in practical terms, it just adds to my CV.”  

Several comments suggested that the barriers to entry are even higher for those who are working class, not white, not British, disabled and/or living outside of London. An agent described it as “near impossible” to find a good job outside London. One publisher who entered the trade via a dedicated scheme said they would have “struggled to get a job through a CV and cover letter, having no connections to the industry and not knowing what to highlight”. “The publishing industry is riddled with classism,” wrote another respondent, who felt judged for being working-class. A couple of answers touched on the application process for immigrants, with one person feeling they “had to jump through even more hoops to show my commitment” compared to British candidates. 

. . . .

Reflecting on how their experiences within the industry have differed from their expectations, many found it friendlier than anticipated, but also less forward-thinking and glamorous. One person said: “Working for a large publisher was more corporate than I expected… I moved into working for smaller independents and I have really enjoyed that.” An agent was surprised by how “gossipy” the industry is and also by “the sheer amount of extra work people do outside of working hours and how this is very openly expected”. 

Meanwhile, a Big Five publishing staffer had found that “in many ways, it’s been better” than their preconceptions, as “overwhelmingly, staff are kind, generous and super-creative”. However, they noted low morale in more senior colleagues, expanding: “Low pay, over-working, slow or no progression seem to be common themes. I’m at the very start of my publishing career and it makes me nervous for the future.” 

This was echoed in the survey results, with similar topics arising in answer to a question about the key issues young workers face in their jobs. Many argued that they could not afford to live comfortably in London, with a Big Five staffer sharing: “Sometimes I have to skip meals to pay my bills.” Others confessed that they would not be able to support themselves without a secondary income or partner’s financial help.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

8 thoughts on “Book trade’s next generation fear burnout and low pay will force their departure”

  1. Young people in the book trade are experiencing widespread burnout and dissatisfaction about pay and progression, a survey by The Bookseller has revealed. The results also indicated that more needs to be done to make the industry accessible and that, though most respondents are largely satisfied in their current roles and hoping to stay in the industry, retention is a rising concern.

    Well, that one was easy.

  2. Substitute US-based references for every UK-based reference in the OP. I doubt that anything is different; I won’t hold my breath, because I’ve never seen it. The only differences I’ve ever seen are the fine details of class markers — even, and perhaps especially, among outside counsel selected to represent these bastions of culture, these gatekeepers of all that is good and right.† Indeed, the low pay is a way to self-perpetuate the class biases — ask yourself who can afford a couple of unpaid internship years before getting an entry-level job with little chance of ever making the F-suite (let alone the C-suite). It makes the path offered potential professional athletes look easy — at least scholarship athletes get room and board.

    † In all the time I’ve been tangling with the publishing industry’s outside counsel, I’ve yet to encounter one who was both “in authority” (partner, or the senior associate present) and had a complexion much different from sour cream. Admittedly, some of this is NYC legal culture as much as anything else; but it holds nationwide. It’s sort of like the old adage that dogs and owners eventually resemble each other, except that very few dogs are as heartless as publishing executives (let alone lawyers).

  3. I should have caught this mistake in the OP:

    That purported $20k “average” income is an arithmetic mean, and rather distorted by a few outliers who make millions. If it’s the survey (voluntary responses, too) I think it was, the median was just over $13,700 — well inside the poverty line no matter what one’s family size. And the median is what represents “the average author’s experience” most closely among the ordinary set of “averages.”

    General rule: The distribution of data when there is a clear bound at one end (zero — yes, it’s theoretically/accounting-wise possible to have a loss, but those authors won’t be voluntarily responding to surveys!) is never a nice, neat, all-points-corresponding Poisson distribution — a symmetrical bell curve and close comparability. When there’s a long tail, there’s short reasoning…

    • “When there’s a long tail, there’s short reasoning…”

      Good distillation.
      Worth remembering for quoting. 🙂

      • Would that a certain popular magazine and its “visionary” authors regarding “long tails” and income distributions had had any reasoning at all a few years back. Or, more to the point, laboratory experience: This is the sort of thing that in abstract intro-to-statistics-for-b-school classes gets glossed over precisely because the students never get any experience in gathering data, let alone designing the process of gathering data or pondering what constitutes a “bad run.” Or a “sunk versus non-sunk operating cost basis.”

        If they had stopped to do any reasoning whatsoever, S*otify et al. might not be so predatorily dominant, because the propaganda playground wouldn’t have quite so many newfangled kewl-looking toys in place (before safety and durability testing had even been considered). The less said about hidden agendas, the better — the one thing that long tails do better than anything else is hide agendas.

        • Apple and digital media: Apple had a lock on digital music via iTunes, with songs at $1 a pop. The studios suggested charging a bit more for new releases and a bit less for older tracks, especially “album tracks”. Apple said no. “But there’s more money in variably pricing!” . “No means no. What are you going to do? Go to Microsoft and WMA? We have more iPods than their entire ecosystem will ever have. ”

          So the music studios did some research, ran the numbers, and found that DRM-free MP3 players included iPod+ WMA compatibles+ every phone + a zillion China inc generic media players. Yes, there was room for piracy. But in a market of billions of potential customers…

          They started with Amazon: new tracks, DRM-free $1.29, dropping to $0.99 and even $0.699 over time. Result, more money over the entire life cycle. More sales overall as “lesser” sings sales grew.

          And they’re no longer slaves to Apple or anybody. Apple caved and, in typical Cupertino fashion, tried to spin it as their own idea.

          A bit of market research goes a long way.

          • The low-life-80s-TV-meme explanation: “Parts is parts. Songs is songs.” (And ponder the source of that while you’re at it.)

            The high-falutin’-math explanation: Attempting to analyze a nonquantized particle array using quantized ideal particles seldom produces replicable results. Apple really pissed off classical-music connoisseurs with its first-decade pricing policies…

            • Apple has long been good at annoying everybody who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid. Still are.
              I’m pretty sure their antitrust case count isn’t stopping at two.

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