Second Annual Publishing Industry Survey

It’s polling season, and PT’s not exempt! This year, 385 people who work in publishing took our survey; 86.5% completed it. The largest group of respondents were literary agents (26.8%), while the majority of respondents at publishing houses work in editorial (40.6%), followed by rights (6.3%) and sales (5.7%). 10% are 22–27, 25% are 28–35, 27% are 36–45, 24% are 46–55, 14% are 56–65, and a few are above 66. Now, let’s get on to the good stuff. (We couldn’t fit it all here—for your colleagues’ drink choices, favorite books, and more, check out our blog.)

AN ABIDING OBSESSION WITH COFFEE

49.3% of respondents say that their favorite part of working in the publishing industry is the satisfaction they get from an intellectual challenge. 28.2% say their favorite part of their job is their contribution to literary/intellectual culture, and 13.9% say their favorite thing about their job is working with like-minded people. Other favorite things about working with books: “the variety, creativity, and entrepreneurship” and “the excitement of digital opportunities.” One enthusiastic respondent’s favorite thing about working in publishing is “Books. All books, all the time. Talking about books, reading books, holding books, and at the end of the day the pleasure of knowing that I can hold my work in my hand and say ‘I did this!’” But another answered the question “What’s your favorite part of working in the publishing industry?” with “Lately, nothing.”

Favorite job perks? Many mentioned free travel (“OK, it’s work too, but hey, it’s London/Frankfurt/ Beijing.” “I’m an acquisitions editor for witchcraft and magic, so my favorite perk is going to pagan festivals and conferences! The people are wonderful and the energy is amazing!”) and free books (although one respondent wrote, “We don’t actually have any perks. We used to get free books, but they just took away that perk in the last month.”) There’s also the office-provided technology: “MacBook Pro (allows me to work wherever),” “MacBook Air,” “laptop and Treo.” A couple people get to bring their dogs to work on Fridays, and one wrote, “I bring my 10-month-old black Lab to work every day!” Caffeine: “A beautiful Francis Francis espresso machine and a monthly subscription for coffee pods—no Starbucks!” “discounted coffee,” “Our office is close to a Peet’s,” “free half-and-half.” A presumed expense-account luncher loves “the tuna burger at the Union Square Café.” Culture-lovers enjoy “free museum passes, “tix to MOMA,” and “tickets to Disney World.” And there are also less tangible benefits: “Is having an assistant a perk? It feels like it to me!” “Our War and Peace book club.” “Constant adult education.” “Sleeping with smart, hot female authors.”

A few respondents agreed with the one who wrote, “This job doesn’t have perks. Are you kidding?” And one combined the love of coffee with the gripe: “Perk? We use drip, or on special days, French press.”

While a few respondents love everything about their jobs, for most, flexible hours and free coffee don’t always make up for the low compensation or heavy workload. Agents in particular cited their massive workload as their least favorite part of their job (which may be why our survey was a welcome respite): “I am NEVER caught up with my work or my reading.” “‘So much to read’ is a blessing and a curse.” “The catch-22 of the business is that you get into it because you love books, but then you never read any real book because you’re too busy reading manuscripts.”

AN INDUSTRY UNDER SIEGE?

A recent New York magazine article entitled “The End” proclaimed darkly that “[t]he book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after.” Whether or not that’s true, the “current state of unease pervading the book business,” as one editor put it, was apparent in respondents’ write-in answers to the question, “What is your least favorite part of your job?” “I feel like books are a dying commodity. I wish more people read,” writes an agent. Another respondent dislikes “the bad shape of the decades-old and broken model.” And a publicist wishes books weren’t “considered the bastard stepchild when it comes to media coverage.”

The financial crisis has made many respondents uneasy: 81.5% think publishing jobs in general are less secure than they were a year ago, while 33.5% think their own job is less secure. 15.3% have seen 3-5 of their colleagues get laid off in the past year, and 6.7% watched 10 or more get laid off. 28.2% have had to lay someone off themselves. (Think that question doesn’t apply to the self-employed? “Sometimes I fire myself, just to keep me on my toes,” writes an agent.)

23.7% of respondents’ companies have enacted hiring freezes, and 13.2% saw their bonuses decrease this year. “Raise increases have been reduced,” writes someone who works in marketing. “It’s hard to motivate people who give it their all only to have a 2% max increase.” Other cost-cutting measures include “having in-house people do the work we used to outsource without raising their salaries,” “smaller print runs,” “claustrophobic expense control,” “hiring non-publishing executives,” “no raises for higher-paid employees,” “changed insurance coverage,” and “offering extra paid vacation time rather than raises.”

One editor mentioned “frustration with publishing’s extremely slow entrance into the online/tech world,” and 17.9% think that’s the main threat facing the industry. One respondent describes it as a “bovine response,” while a publisher bemoans a “failure to take advantage of opportunities that publishing creates.”

There’s “an inability to abandon a dysfunctional business model, coupled with absurd growth demands on the part of corporate investors,” writes a literary scout, “not to mention an uneducated public.” “Publishing companies are being run by corporations that expect pharmaceutical-industry rates of return on capital, and can’t seem to realize, even after forty years of corporate ownership of publishing companies, that this business doesn’t work that way,” writes a respondent who works in marketing at a very large company. “The business and publishing strategies that flow from that essential disconnect are the perennial largest problem in publishing.”

Other responses: “high advances in an effort to create buzz for books that can’t ultimately earn out,” “slavery to the top booksellers,” “the antiquated distribution system and returns,” and “too many average books.” Oh, and “know-nothing Republicans.”

An editor at a large house offers advice for the future: “[We are] not thinking outside the box enough with regards to content. We should be thinking about reaching new readers. Think back to how the NASCAR market proved to be a new reading audience—what’s the other subculture out there that publishing should tap into?”

THE FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY…

Though 13.8% of respondents say that the biggest threat facing the industry is online competition, that’s also the main source of publishing news for 47.7% of them, particularly sites like Publishers Lunch. “Publishers Weekly is worthless,” writes a scout. 54.3% of respondents read book and media blogs regularly, up from 31.7% last year (and 10.5% are bloggers themselves). But so far, this tech savvy doesn’t extend to eBooks—70.7% of respondents have never read one. Of those who do read eBooks, so far the Sony Reader is beating the Kindle (17.4% own the former; 11.5% own the latter.) Perhaps next year, more people will agree with the executive who wrote, “I pretty much only read eBooks now.” And they might be reading them on their iPhones—10% of respondents own one, while 45.8% “really want one.”

…AND THE FUTURE OF OUR NATION

So where do we go from here? 14.2% of respondents are fairly happy where they are—they hope to be running the company in five years. Others hope to be agenting (12.9%) or in digital media (6.8%). (Also, “Banff would be ideal.”) And 28% of respondents answered, “I don’t know yet. . . . it depends on how the election goes” (an answer that beat out even San Francisco!) They might feel heartened to hear that many of their own colleagues still believe that books, not just government, can make a difference. Take, for instance, the editor who wrote that her favorite part of working in publishing is the opportunity to “change the world for the better.”

Just in case books can’t do it all, though . . . 86% of respondents are voting for Barack Obama in November.

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