Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Publishing: Young, Cheap, White Talent Rules

Book publishing is a healthy industry that has generated billions of dollars for publishers, writers, bookstores, printers, literary agents, and all those that make up the profession.  But what happens when the book world becomes younger, less experienced, and not as well trained as those who used to run things?

After the triple fallout of The Great Recession, eBook Revolution, and the loss of Borders, the book industry is left with a new generation to run it.

Layoffs and consolidations at publishing houses demanded cheaper and younger talent to come in.  New ideas, youthful optimism and great energy are the clear selling points – but with that comes a lack of wisdom, maturity, and perspective.

In the book retail market there are fewer overall bookstores than there used to be and more books are purchased online than ever before.  Convenience wins but discoverability loses.  Who is there to recommend books to customers?  Where are the bookshelves one can scan to find something they weren’t looking for?

For writers, because of print-on-demand, digital publishing, and self-publishing, there is no barrier to become a published author.  Anyone can put out a book.  No longer is it the wise, aged, and experienced who get published.  Now teenagers can press a button and have a book.  So, though the process of getting published has become democratized, the litmus test for quality is gone too, leaving the market flooded with books that could benefit from editing, a makeover, or even a withdrawal.

Pushing a lot of this is the Internet.  Book marketing, more than ever, has gone to the young.  Everyone thinks social media wizardry is just a click away.  No training required. Just take out a gadget and flick your wrists and there you go – zillions of connections who all want to buy books.

Ok, not exactly.

So, let’s summarize here.  Because of technology, economics, and ego, the quality of book publishing may have weakened from generations ago.  It could be a one-time correction.  The next few decades will see today’s newbies and young ones grow into the positions they already hold.  Each new generation coming in will be better prepared than the current one, improving alongside the technology that is available to them.

A recent Publishers Weekly employment and salary survey revealed some obvious trends regarding the youth movement and salaries.  It also highlighted two disturbing elements of the industry.  Average compensation for men is 40% greater than that of women.  It’s hard to believe, given the majority of publishing employees are women.  The majority of readers are women, too.

Equally disturbing is the enormous lack of diversity in the publishing workplace.  89% are white, 1% are black, 5% are Asian, and 3% are Hispanic. There is no reason for this.  America is 65% white and in NYC, Chicago, and LA, where the majority of major houses exist, ethnic diversity is all over the place except inside a publishing company.  The lack of diversity will only injure publishers because they don’t get insights on how to write and publish for huge ethnic markets.  As readers, we all miss out when it’s just one kind of voice being served to us.

Change won’t happen overnight, even though from 2008 to 2012 it seemed like it did happen quickly, but the publishing world will become older, more diverse, more equitable in its compensation, and smart about how it goes about its business.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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