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Q&Q publishing industry survey suggests job satisfaction despite stagnant salaries, gender bias

(Illustration: Sophie Casson)

What is it like to work in book publishing in 2013? In some ways it has always been thus: publishing professionals are generally overworked and underpaid, but content in their chosen careers (if not their current jobs). But as demonstrated by the results of Q&Q‘s latest salary survey “ our first in five years “ pressures on the industry are having an effect on salaries and job satisfaction, a trend that could bode ill for employers’ ability to attract and retain top talent. (Click on the PDF to read the full results.)

First, the good news. People who seek employment in the book business are, by and large, satisfied in their work. Sure, overtime is a fact of life for nearly half the workforce (for which only a small minority is compensated) and salaries are comparatively small, but of the more than 300 respondents who filled out our online survey, only five per cent rated their current job satisfaction as poor. By contrast, 40 per cent scored their job satisfaction as very good or excellent, and a further 38 per cent marked it as good.

Those figures are practically identical to results from our previous survey in 2008, and the explanation seems to be largely the same. People who work in publishing are book-lovers, so they take great pleasure “ joy, even “ in creating books (or promoting them, or selling them) and being surrounded by others of their ilk. (There are also the parties, of course.) When we asked what people liked most about their jobs, the most popular responses, by a wide margin, were the kind of work I do and my colleagues.

However, a lot has changed in five years. This survey does not measure the overall size or diversity of the book industry, but signs that it has become leaner and meaner “ with employers having shed jobs, merged with competitors, or gone out of business “ show up in the data in other ways. Salaries have stagnated, with the average annual income of $48,300 having increased by only 2.3 per cent over the past five years, despite the fact that other demographic factors (such as age and work experience) have remained constant.

Not surprisingly, cost-of-living raises of more than three per cent are rare “ fewer than a quarter of respondents had received one the previous year “ and salary levels are by far the most common cause of job angst. Respondents also expressed pessimism about their chances for upward mobility, with only seven per cent rating their likelihood of receiving a promotion in the coming year as very good or excellent.

Perhaps more troubling, the data seems to indicate that a versatile and experienced segment of the workforce is deeply ambivalent about their future in publishing. Out of all respondents, 22 per cent indicated that, in two years, they no longer expect to be working within the book industry. That figure is skewed, however, by a particular demographic “ namely, those who have been in the industry for three to 10 years, 31 per cent of whom are contemplating changing careers. (The number skews even higher for publishing professionals with six-to-10 years experience.) In other words, at a time when workers in many industries can expect to be taking on roles of greater responsibility and prestige, a substantial number of publishing professionals are considering leaving the book trade altogether.

This trend could be chalked up to mid-­career angst, but an equally plausible explanation is borne out by the survey. When asked what would most improve job satisfaction, by far the most common answer “ besides a salary increase “ was better opportunity for advancement. Even if those opportunities aren’t easy to come by, it’s possible that more training, work-related travel, and mentorship could alleviate the looming problem of worker attrition.

When it comes to advancement, another key demographic stands out. According to the survey, 75 per cent of the publishing workforce is female, but only 52 per cent of senior management roles are held by women. On average, women earn 18 per cent less than men, and are less likely to have earned a bonus or raise in the prior year. And women in larger firms are systematically given less responsibility than their male peers: only six per cent of female respondents reported that they supervise more than five employees, compared to 21 per cent of men.

In an industry whose strength is its workforce, evidence of such systemic bias cannot be tolerated.

About the Q&Q salary survey: We collected survey responses online over several weeks in late spring 2013. We solicited responses on our website, in email newsletters, and via social-media platforms. The surveys were completed anonymously. ¢ Results are based on completed surveys from 393 publishing professionals. (The previous survey, in 2008, received about 395 responses.) Not all respondents answered every question; percentages and averages are calculated based on the number of answers for a given question. In calculating the average salary, we did not include positions for which there was only one respondent. ¢ Averages based on a small number of responses are most susceptible to variation due to the small sample size. We opted to include these figures in order to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the industry, but they should be used as guidelines only. ¢ Salaries were rounded to the nearest $100, bonuses to the nearest $50, and most percentages to the nearest whole number.

This article appeared in the September issue of Q&Q.