Lindy Hess has seen publishing go through its share of convulsions. Through recessions and claims that print was dying (or already dead), she's managed to shepherd thousands of college grads into the book business. Hess has been director of the Columbia Publishing Course for more than 20 years and acknowledges that students are facing a tougher road to employment than at any time in her tenure. Nonetheless, admissions to her program aren't down and people are still eager to work in the field. As Hess and directors at similar programs told PW, recent grads haven't gotten the memo that publishing is dead; interest in the field may even be on the rise.
Although students graduating from this past summer's Columbia course—one of three popular six-week intensive programs aimed at helping college grads break into book and magazine publishing—didn't land as many jobs as in previous years, Hess said the program's employment rate was still 84%, down from the usual 94%, and interest in the program hasn't subsided. This is certainly in line with other statistics on grad school; the recession, as various media outlets have reported, has caused a spike in applications at business and law schools. Although it's too soon to tell how many applicants will try to get into this summer's Columbia course—the program accepts 100 students and usually receives some 400 applications—her guess is that competition may be even stiffer. “I don't know what will happen with applications, but, sometimes, when there are lot of jobs available and [the market] isn't so difficult, a publishing course can seem less compelling.”
The value of the summer publishing courses—along with Columbia, the other two most popular options are the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver—certainly could be more of a consideration now for college grads. Although the programs vary slightly in cost, they average about $5,000, without room and board, for a six-week session. This may seem like a better value in a time when there's increased competition for fewer jobs and making connections with publishing professionals—something all three summer courses provide—is more important.
Andrea Chambers, who oversees the NYU program, notes that, as bad as the job market is in book publishing, it's even worse in ancillary fields. Up until now, she said, about half of NYU's students would take the magazine track; now, because the magazine sector offers even worse employment prospects than book publishing, she thinks interest in the book track may spike. Chambers also noted that enrollment is up for NYU's master's in publishing (popular among working publishing professionals).
Both Chambers and Hess also pointed out that, bad as things are in the job market, entry-level positions aren't the ones disappearing. As Hess put it, no matter what the state of the industry, the need for assistants remains constant; companies “can't survive without them.”
Longtime Tattered Cover bookseller Joyce Meskis, director of the Denver course, is hoping her program's location will be a boon next summer: “We're not in New York, so we're a little bit different, and I think that bodes well for us.” Meskis, like Chamber and Hess, also believes there may be more entry-level opportunities at smaller and scholarly houses, which could be a plus for a program like Denver's, which is known for its focus on independent publishing.
Still, publishing has a certain cachet, despite recent cutbacks. Retha Powers, assistant director of the CUNY publishing certificate program (which caters to CUNY undergrads and a handful of career-changers), sees this as the “meaningful work trend.” When times get tough, Powers believes, people reexamine their career goals—is it about making money or finding interesting work? “People start asking themselves, 'If I don't have the same job security, then what do I really want to be doing?' I think one of the answers is that people are really excited about publishing.”