In surveying a number of publishing programs around the country about the effect of digital on publishing and publishing education, a number of buzzwords continually cropped up: Adobe; EPub; Facebook and Twitter; SEO; metadata; transmedia. If you need any further proof of how publishing is changing, ask yourself: how many of these words were floating around industry circles a few years ago?
To look at the new demands placed on publishing by digital, PW contacted eight publishing education programs and found that all eight have substantially retailored their curricula at an increasing rate as dictated by digital. “We consider digital from all aspects,” says Tina C. Weiner, director of the Yale Publishing Course. “How it influences content, production, legal issues, the digital supply chain, financial planning and new business development, reorganization and retraining of existing staff and skills to look for in new hires, marketing and promotion, and strategic planning.” Weiner says Yale’s curriculum concentrates on the problems new technology presents as well as its possibilities, an objective that’s now standard in publishing programs. At Rosemont College, just outside of Philadelphia, students learn about and create book trailers for soon-to-be-released books at the nearby WHYY studios in Center City. At Pace University in New York City, these courses have been added to the curriculum: “Digital Issues in Publishing”; “E Books, Technology Work Flow and Business Model”; “Product Management and Applications”; and “The Future of Publishing: Transmedia.” And at the University of Houston–Victoria, there’s a “hidden digital curriculum”: students from all over earn their degrees entirely online.
Digital is pushing changes upon publishing programs at all levels in the same way it’s pushing changes upon the publishing industry as a whole. From fundamental principles down to small tweaks, courses are being altered with each semester. Portland State University, which has the unique facet of Ooligan Press, a nonprofit trade publisher run entirely by students, is not only incorporating XML, HTML5, and EPub 3 into its curriculum, it’s also having theoretical discussions about where digital will take the whole concept of storytelling and publishing. According to Abbey Gaterud, adjunct faculty at PSU, digital has “certainly made the discussion of putting content in the most appropriate container front and center in every aspect of our curriculum.” As a result, the questions that now pop up include: “Does a work deserve print?”; “Would it be better served by interactive content?”; “Can we do that?”
At Emerson College, in Boston, one of the publishing programs that has implemented electronic publishing as a full-fledged “concentration” (in addition to magazine or book publishing), the past five years have seen the following changes: an electronic publisher-in-residence was brought in, the first digital graphic novel was submitted as a thesis project, and “Electronic Publishing Overview” became a required class for all graduate students. “Digital affects everything,” says Emerson’s John Rodzvilla, the program’s electronic publisher-in-residence and formerly with Perseus Books Group. “The guest speakers we have in the classes are now focused on digital advances. We have guest speakers from area startups and traditional printers talking about new ways to use phones and social networks to engage readers.”
On a smaller scale, these broad changes are meant to give each student specific skills upon graduation that fit with digital’s growing industry influence. The usual suspects were cited across the board: familiarity with Adobe, social media, HTML5, file sharing, and cloud technologies are now viewed as essential touchpoints of a higher education publishing degree program. At New York University, advanced seminars, lab-based courses focusing on topics like app creation, and hands-on work with Web-traffic software like ComScore and Omniture are now being incorporated into courses like “Digital Financials for Apps, Tablet and Video.” Explains Andrea Chambers, director of NYU’s Center for Publishing: “Five years ago we offered approximately three digital courses, and now we have 17.”
Are publishers asking graduates to have specific skills? “To be honest, I’m not hearing this from publishers,” says Per Henningsgaard, new director of publishing for Ooligan Press at Portland State, who notes that the absence of publisher feedback on digital needs might be due to his program mostly being in contact with small, independent publishing houses. Rosemont’s interim director, Ann Willkomm, says that the publishers she’s spoken with are talking digital, “but most still don’t have specific requirements for potential employees,” though, she says, “no doubt that will come.” Weiner and Chambers were getting a stronger digital vibe from publishers. “Publishers are looking for entirely new skills in new hires, many who will come from outside the publishing industry,” says Weiner. “Publishers are interested in people with skills and experience in IT, social media, Web design, and innovative technology.” Chambers says NYU is hearing from publishers that graduates “need to understand apps, tablets, and the mobile industry in general.”
And while it’s easy to get caught up with all these new terms as the digital vocabulary expands, some program heads are (somewhat) stressing a return to basics. In the past, experience in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Photo Workshop were essential, says David Unger, director of the City College of New York’s Publishing Certificate Program. “We are now having requests to increase the digital literacy of our students. We must not forget that strong writing skills are indispensable for success in publishing. It’s not all about innovation.” Rosemont’s Willkomm had a similar view on what skills students need today. “I think the thing I am seeing the most is a need for students to slow down,” she says. “In this age of instant gratification and need for content, there are so many errors. Now there is the added benefit of being able to quickly correct a typo, a misspelled name, or flat-out incorrect information, but I am trying to pass onto my students that accuracy is still important. We can’t simply rush to post content and worry later about accuracy, both at a mechanical level and at a content level.”
The New Jobs
The true measure of the effect of schools and programs redesigning their curriculum to include digital is jobs. NYU’s Chambers says 31% of 2012 graduates are working primarily in digital roles, compared to 2010, when 15% of hires were digital-based (and only 6% in 2007). Rodzvilla estimates that 25%–30% of Emerson graduates are landing purely digital content creation/management jobs, and that 70% of the alumni are working in a job that has both print and digital components. “I don’t see many alumni who have jobs without a digital component,” he says. At City College, Unger reports that three of its nine summer 2012 students placed in paid internships were in the digital field: one at Random House digital, another in Penguin’s production office, and the third at the Moveable Type Literary Agency. “This would have been unheard of five years back,” Unger says. “We suspect that 20% to 30% of all publishing jobs will require a strong foundation in the digital field.”
Among the digital jobs snared by graduates are digital marketing associate, digital sales and promotion manager, social media manager, digital development coordinator, e-book developer, digital proofreader, freelance writer for online magazine, and content strategist. One Rosemont graduate is the managing editor of Behavioral Sciences at Taylor & Francis, where, in addition to managing a list of journals and acquiring new publications, she discusses the vision for journals to move to online-only or to an open-access model. At Pace, director Sherman Raskin says, “Many of our graduates are landing jobs that did not exist five years ago.” Raskin cites Chris Ford, director of a digital division of McGraw-Hill; Noah Efrom, assistant manager for e-book development at Simon & Schuster; Yunjie Duan, IT project manager at Pearson; and Thomas Dimascio, director of supply chain management at DC Comics.
Iris Amelia Febres, a 2012 graduate of Emerson’s program, is now an e-book developer at F+W Media. Her position entails the creation of e-books (specifically EPub files) for the Crimson Romance imprint. Febres says: “The classes I took at Emerson included work in HTML and CSS, as well as a focus on device-specific issues. By [Emerson] providing the venue for publishing forums, I was not only able to network with professionals working in the field, I was up-to-date in the current, real conditions these individuals had to face as devices, specifications, and content evolved.”
Portland State grad Logan Balestrino landed a position at Del Rey Spectra, where his digital responsibilities include assigning BISAC codes and other metadata maintenance, gathering data for enhanced e-book titles, and aiding in the production of apps. Thea James, a 2012 NYU grad, oversees day-to-day relationships with Workman’s growing roster of e-books as the publisher’s digital sales and promotions manager. Not only did NYU’s program provide guidance and exposure to digital topics and innovations for James, she also found the job while still taking classes. “I learned about the position through the M.S. program, which frequently alerts students to open positions and internship opportunities,” James says.
The attitude of the heads of the programs surveyed by PW mirrors that of the entire publishing industry: digital will only further affect how books are published on a day-to-day basis. Rodzvilla says of recent graduates from Emerson: “There are a few who find positions in the sales, financial, and legal sectors of the industry, but everyone else is dealing with digital on a weekly or daily basis.”