BLOG: #BookJobTransparency – Salary Secrets and the Book Business

The first thing I saw when I logged onto twitter this morning was the Bookseller report on the survey that was going around publishing, recording salaries at all levels. When I first looked, it had just over 500 entries. As of 5:00pm this evening, it was at close to 850.

I’ve spoken before at length about how getting into publishing can be difficult due to low starting salaries and a staggering commitment to publishing being based in London. I was delighted at the announcements from PRH and Hachette that they would be opening regional branches elsewhere in the country, and while Hachette’s new branches are no more convenient for me personally than London, it will make a big difference to the access people have to the industry.

That was never going to solve all the issues, however, and the trending hashtag “#PublishingPaidMe”, set up to model the discrepancies between the advances paid to white and black authors, publishing workers began to share their comparative salaries. It’s frustrated me for years that salaries in publishing seem to be largely kept secret – coming from the university sector where each institution had advertised salary bands on jobs so people could judge the level of responsibility for each role, it seemed crackers to me that this was kept a secret.

I wasn’t the only one, Aki Schilz has long run the #BookJobTransparency campaign, with support from people in the industry including BookCareers.com. This week, the BookJobTransparency website was launched, giving statistics on why the lack of transparency is ridiculous for employers and restricted access to the industry for many people, and promising an anonymous survey into industry pay. This would allow comparisons for individual pay, examinations of salary practices across the industry, and assessments of gender, sexuality, and racial biases. It also prompted a very moving blog post from Niamh Mulvey, who took a frank look at publishing pay and described her experiences, and whether she would recommend the career to anyone starting out.

However, it’s no surprise that in these charged times, others were unwilling to wait to see this information, and an the anonymous survey was created. By filling in a google doc, your job title, employer, salary and location were added to a spreadsheet, along with your ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, as well as any further mitigating comments you wished to add. The survey is entirely unconnected to BookJobTransparency, and I understand the person who started it has no intention of working with the campaign to ensure a consistency of approach.

The data is pretty damning – it shows so far that many people within the industry are earning under £40k a year pre-tax, even in senior roles, but living in the city with the highest living costs in the country. I’ll be curious to see more analysis of this, but I’m unsure whether the person who started the survey is planning on doing any more on it.

One thing I find concerning is that there is very little scope for anonymity in the survey – either you name your precise publisher and thus narrow down your chances of remaining anonymous, or you fudge it and publishers are not held to account for their salary choices. A further issue is that, with the spreadsheet uneditable and data collected through a document, and the creator remaining anonymous, there is no recourse to remove your data if you no longer wish it to be there – at least, not without some significant difficulty. This is against the rule of most research ethics (which allow participants to withdraw their agreement to participate and remove their data from a study at any time), and it also means that, should a person be recognised via their details, this could potentially lead to difficulties with their employer. I would hope this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, but I am wary of the situation. EDIT: I have been advised that if you want to remove your data from the database, you can contact the email address listed at the top of the google sheet and request for your details to be deleted.

The BookJobTransparency survey promises to fully anonymise and analyse the data provided by participants so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn, and progress can be made while protecting contributors. I hope that everyone who has participated in the googledocs survey will also participate in the BookJobTransparency one. I would also strongly advise making sure that you have membership of a publishing union – the National Union of Journalists has a publishing branch, and it would be worthwhile to join.

In the meantime, a twitter account has been set up to document and share some of the information it has gathered on the issue, again anonymously, entitled #PublishingPaidMe Employee Edition.

Salaries in publishing are one of the key barriers to increasing diversity and inclusivity in the industry. The #BookJobTransparency campaign has been doing incredible work, but despite getting broad praise from within the industry, very little movement has happened so far. In fact, this weeks Jobs In Books bulletin, released just hours after the article dropped, didn’t feature a single salary listing. Industry bodies like the Bookseller and recruitment agencies have a part to play in this – by insisting that they will only circulate roles which have salary bands attached, they could immediately force publishers to be more open with their hiring practices. I would be interested to know why they haven’t committed to this yet? When responding to the tweet from Umbrella Data that I linked above, the Bookseller only said they could not force employers to reveal salaries. Why is this the case? More clarity in how roles are advertised and recruited for could also help identify where the industry is falling down and how it can be addressed to become more fair and inclusive.

In the interim, I hope that the current collection of data will give the industry and those in power a moment of pause, and perhaps prompt them to examine how it is currently working and who exactly it’s serving in its current form. With any luck, this will perhaps make the industry as a whole more receptive to change, and when the more detailed output from the BookJobTransparency campaign is published, they will be in a position to act on the recommendations in a positive way.

For now, however, it seems as though the cat is well and truly out of the bag. I hope that this is the start of more open conversations about salary and the retention of workers within publishing, as well as making the industry more accessible. The dam has broken, now we need to look at rebuilding in a way that is fair for everyone.

2 thoughts on “BLOG: #BookJobTransparency – Salary Secrets and the Book Business

  1. Hattie says:

    I came across this article via Ali’s Twitter after seeing her site listed in on the current Google sheet. It’s exciting there’s so much great work being done! I did, however, want to share my experience with the survey. I submitted my info yesterday but felt quite nervous about it today. There’s a contact email listed on the sheet so I got in touch and had my entry deleted pretty quickly. I resubmitted with a watered down, much more anonymous version and feel “safer” with that (though it does beg the question, why are we so afraid…).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Claire says:

      That’s really good and reassuring to know! I’m glad that you were able to get a response to your request to take the info down.

      And you are so right, but I think it’s important to protect ourselves as much as possible to ensure real change happens!

      Like

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