BLOG: The Cost of Starting a Career in Publishing

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To continue with the theme of “Why I am Disgruntled that Most Large Publishers are Based in London”, I thought I would show some cold, hard numbers to demonstrate the cost of entering a career in publishing, whether you choose to live in London, or do what I do and commute.

On my MA, I was the oldest person on the course, by anything between 1 and 8 years. I was surprised how many people had come to the MA straight from their undergraduate degree, whilst I had 7 years of full time work behind me. But both approaches present their own difficulties for starting out – a lot of my cohort were living with their parents whilst they studied, with the intention of hopefully moving out when they had a job. They have the flexibility of just starting out, but the difficulty of the huge up-front expenses of moving out. My issues were that whilst I didn’t have those costs, I have roots which cannot be easily moved – a husband with his own career, a mortgage and a very neurotic cat for starters.

These were all things I knew, and factors which had been carefully calculated before I even started the course. But until recently, no publishers advertised their starting salaries – pay in the publishing industry seemed to be the biggest secret in the world. It was only through asking outright at careers events I was able to discover what the salary would be. In the last year, PubInterns on twitter has been doing incredible work pushing for transparency in publishing pay, and we are beginning to see salaries being listed when a job is advertised, but there is a still a long way to go.

With this salary information, however, I can begin to demonstrate the actual costs of starting a career in publishing.

For this example, I will use the starting salary for entry level role at Hachette – £23,000 (March 2018).

Rugby London
Annual mortgage, 3 bed semi-detached house in Rugby – £3,150 (Monthly payments of £525, split between two income earners) Annual rent, single room in London – £5,724 (based on monthly rent of £477, for Hackney, on this map updated Jan 18: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-land/renting/london-rents-map)
Annual season ticket Rugby to London Euston only, West Midlands Trains, Standard Class – £5,760 (March 2018) Annual Travel Card Zones 1 and 2 – £1,572 (walking time from Hackney to Blackfriars 1hr 20 minutes; based on monthly cost of £131 from TFL March 2018: https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/fares/caps-and-travelcard-prices?ticketType=Adult)
Total: £8,910 Total: £7,296
Remaining Annual Income, Pre-Tax: £14,090 Remaining Annual Income, Pre-Tax: £15,704

I have not gone like-for-like in terms of accommodation, because to get the cheaper costs for rent on a three bed house in London, not only was I going as far out as Enfield, it was still costing £1500 a month, which would give an annual rent of £18000.00, which is just not feasible or sensible to consider for anyone in an entry level job.

Other considerations are tax. I know that Hachette offer a season ticket loan for employees which is taken out of the salary on a monthly basis, possibly they would do this for monthly travel cards as well. In my experience, where employers take a payment from salary on a monthly basis (pension, parking, gym) they will often try to deduct it from the salary PRE-tax, to give employees a slight tax break, as the take-home pay will be a lower figure. Based on this assumption, the figures for income tax and National Insurance can be demonstrated below:

Rugby London
Income minus cost of season ticket: £17,240 Income minus cost of Travel card: £21,428
Annual income tax: £1,250 Annual income tax: £1,984
Annual national insurance: £1,089 Annual national insurance: £1,592
Total take home pay: £15,005 Total take home pay: £17,853
Minus mortgage: £11,855 Minus rent: £12,129

(Tax figures using MoneySavingExpert’s Tax calculator for the 2017/18 year: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/tax-calculator/)

This would leave a total difference in income between the two options of £274. And given the difference in the cost of a round of drinks between London and the Midlands, that £274 advantage is going to even out fairly quickly.

Things to be noted:

  • As I understand it, Hachette have the joint highest starting salary in commercial trade publishing, alongside Penguin Random House. The actual starting salary most people will be working on will be lower than this.
  • The rent I found on the magic map of London is very much an average, and is dependent on somewhere at that price being available. The reality is, most people living in London will pay more than this. Potentially if you pay more, you will be living closer to where you work so could save on tube fare. Split the difference.
  • This is also not taking into account the ridiculous up front costs of initially renting a place to live – estate agent fees, deposits, referencing fees (I have a lot of feelings about estate agent fees and none of them are polite).
  • This is also not taking into account pension contributions (currently a minimum contribution of 2%, with a 1% contribution from employer, but this goes up to 5% personal contribution from April 2018, and to 8% from April 2019), and I did not even dare venture into the realm of council tax.

These figures for London work on the assumption that you are being paid the highest you can be paid, living a sensible distance away, paying a decently low rent, and have already been established as a tenant so the expense of moving has been cancelled out.

Figures like these are the reason that publishing is seen as an elitist industry. Starting out with these costs, it is hard to imagine people from working class backgrounds, or without a robust support network, being able to afford to get started in this industry. An annual salary after transport, rent and taxes of £12,129 works out at £233.25 per week. With groceries, utility bills, council tax, student loan repayments and insurance, that quickly whittles away until you have a swathe of early career publishers living paycheck to paycheck and budgeting to within an inch of their lives, until they are able to start progressing up the career ladder and can afford to eat more than SuperNoodles and wonky carrots.

This hasn’t even taken into account the cost of degrees, training courses and unpaid internships, which is a much larger piece of work.

For all that diversity in publishing is being discussed at length presently, unless considerations are given to these costs and the prospective quality of life for people starting in the industry, all the talk means nothing. Personally, I think part of that would be for the industry to stop considering London as the be-all, end-all of publishing in the UK.

Possibly this sounds fatalistic, but when you consider that there is a charity that has been established to help provide assistance with rent, travel and food for people starting in publishing, perhaps there should be some consideration as to how the industry is skewed. The subsidised rent for a room in a shared flat owned by the charity, including wi-fi and utilities, is £384.00. This does not include council tax, and the flats are located in Whetstone, in zone 4 (monthly travelcard cost £188.20, annual cost £2258.40). This is eminently affordable, makes things look more realistic – on a salary of £23,000. But obviously there is a limit to the number of people who can get these flats, meaning that whilst some people are being helped, not everyone can be. And not everyone is earning £23,000.

There is also a second initiative run by the Publishers’ Association, the Spare Room Project, in which current publishers are asked to offer out their spare rooms for free, so people from outside of London can come and stay to complete their (probably unpaid) internship, over the summer months.

Both of these are wonderful and admirable things, and make me so happy that the publishing industry is supportive in this way. But realistically, they are sticking plasters over a much bigger issue – large numbers of people cannot afford to live in London and undertake an entry level role in publishing; and outside of London, the publishers are generally so much smaller that they do not have entry level roles available as regularly, if ever.

It seems like everyone is aware that this is a problem, but if I’m honest there doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement to address it in a meaningful way. Instead of considering decentralising the industry, they seem to be happy to occasionally give new starters a few quid towards their interview costs, or let them camp out in the spare room, and the industry at large feels extremely pleased with itself.

Change comes by millimeters, I suppose.

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