In the past five years, traditional publishing has seen tremendous innovation and reinvention, and, at the same time, more and more publishing-related opportunities can be found in the startup world than ever before. The skills necessary to succeed in today’s book business are changing at breakneck pace, so we checked in with universities offering master’s degrees in publishing to see who today’s students are, what they’re studying, and where they’re finding work.
A Class Portrait
At New York City’s Pace University Publishing Program (which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2015), enrollment numbers run from 100 to 121 students per year, with 50 to 60 graduates annually. NYU’s student body consists of between 115 and 140 students, and these numbers have grown over the last five years, according to Andrea Chambers, director of NYU’s Center for Publishing, Digital and Print Media. The number of graduates has also increased at Rosemont College (in Rosemont, Pa.) in the same period: in 2009, the program graduated 17 students, while in 2015, the university expects 21 graduates. Enrollment was up at Boston’s Emerson College, as well. There are 119 students in the program this year, up from 90 in 2009.
Not surprisingly, most students in the publishing programs of the universities that spoke with PW are women. At present, 75% of Pace graduate students are women, and an even larger portion of the student body is made up of women at Oregon’s Portland State University (80%), Emerson (82%), NYU (85%), and Rosemont (86%).
Gender and racial diversity across the industry has been a major point of conversation in publishing this year, especially with the growth of the grassroots #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which advocates more diversity in children’s literature. According to the universities PW talked to, diversity is also a prime concern in graduate publishing programs. “Diversity in our student body is very much a priority,” Chambers says. “Not only do we participate in domestic diversity recruitment events for women and minorities, but we also participate in various recruitment activities aimed at attracting international students.”
Pace reported that 50% of its current publishing program students are white, and 50% are nonwhite (with 12% of the student body hailing from outside of the U.S.). At Rosemont, 16% of the student population is nonwhite. NYU does not release enrollment statistics on ethnicity. Per Henningsgaard, director of publishing at PSU, admits that, despite being a priority, achieving diversity among the program’s student body remains a hurdle. The incoming class this year at PSU are 90% white and 10% persons of color. “Diversity in the student body is something we think a lot about, but I’d be lying if I said we’d figured out how to target our recruitment practices to attract a diverse student body,” Henningsgaard says. “Probably our most effective technique for recruiting a diverse student body is for [PSU’s student-run] Ooligan Press to publish books that speak to the issue of diversity.” He notes that Ooligan titles such as Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, due out in early 2015, and Dreams of the West: The History of the Chinese in Oregon, 1850–1950 generate publicity and give the university an opportunity to write about “issues that are presumably important to that diverse student body we’re attempting to attract” across social media.
Lisa Diercks, associate professor and program director at the master’s publishing program at Emerson, calls diversity a “campus-wide” goal. “My own multiracial heritage gives me something of a personal interest in making any incoming class as diverse and inclusive as
possible,” she says. “Exposure to different perspectives cannot help but enrich everyone’s experience, inside the classroom and out in the world.”
What’s on the Books
Rosemont’s publishing program offers four areas of study: the business of publishing, children’s and YA publishing, design, and editorial. Each student can focus on up to two areas. Anne Willkomm, the director of Rosemont’s graduate publishing program, says that roughly 35% of students focus on two concentrations, but that this figure shifts from year to year. Currently, 66% of students focus on editorial. The business and children’s/YA concentrations each claim 27% of the student body, and 17% focus on design.
At Emerson, students don’t declare concentrations but can focus study according to their fields of interest. The program encompasses magazine publishing, but 75% of students opt to pursue book publishing, 11% study magazine publishing, 8% focus on electronic publishing, and 5% don’t select an area.
According to Sherman Raskin, director of the publishing program at Pace, students study “all aspects” of publishing: books, magazines, and digital publishing—and, in books, they can concentrate on editing, design, digital, or marketing. Raskin says that Pace students currently show a “strong interest” in digital publishing.
“Publishing is changing, and we are, too,” Chambers notes, adding that NYU has, naturally, “greatly” increased its focus on digital media. “The industry demands this, and the students request this knowledge in a hands-on, sometimes lab-based format.” In response, the university has added courses in digital financials, e-book business models, writing and editing for the Web, social media marketing, and the role of video in publishing. “Increasingly, hiring managers tell us that they value highly targeted digital skills, and we want to be sure our students are proficient in as many digital functions as possible,” Chambers says.
Another shift for NYU’s publishing program is that it now encourages students to “think strategically about new business models and ways to test assumptions more efficiently and economically,” as Chambers puts it. To that end, the university has made the final course in the program a capstone called “Advanced Special Project in Publishing.” Students in the course are charged with developing business plans for new media ventures that explore new modes of sales, marketing, and distribution.
NYU will also soon expand its digital instruction to the more experienced members of the industry. In March 2015, its Advanced Digital Publishing Institute will offer a series of online courses designed for mid- to senior-level book publishing managers and executives in the U.S. and abroad, to help them “improve their digital knowledge and to learn new strategies,” says Chambers.
“The industry challenge is exciting and we prepare all of our students for the changes evolving in the industry,” says Pace’s Raskin, adding that digital publishing has been a strong influence in redesigning the curriculum and courses. The university’s multimedia lab, where editing, digital publishing, and desktop and advanced desktop courses are now offered, was rebuilt in summer 2014. Pace has also responded to the growth of certain sectors of publishing, offering a “very popular” course in graphic novel and comic book publishing. “Every course has been and continues to be reevaluated and redesigned each semester to ensure that they are current,” says Raskin.
One of Willkomm’s first moves when she became director of the Rosemont publishing program in 2012 was to establish a children’s and YA concentration. “I did this to respond to the growth in that segment of the market,” she says, adding that, as a result, Rosemont students are landing jobs at the children’s divisions of major houses. She notes that she is “continually tweaking and changing courses to meet the demands of the marketplace,” to expose students to industry trends. In a class she is teaching this semester, students are publishing a book—learning the nuts and bolts of layout and design, and how to register for ISBNs. In a developmental editing class, students are working directly with authors on real projects. “Students at Rosemont are actually doing the work, which ultimately prepares them to enter the workforce,” Willkomm notes.
PSU’s Ooligan Press has changed alongside the publishing industry, according to Henningsgaard. “In order for our publishing house to remain competitive, it needs to keep up with industry developments,” he says. “Ooligan Press is doing a lot more with digital publishing now than it was five years ago.” All Ooligan books are now launched simultaneously in print and digital formats, and the press is also experimenting with pricing and marketing initiatives designed to drive preorders.
Where Grads Land
Despite the rapid expansion of the publishing industry into the tech sector, most program directors PW spoke with say that, on the whole, graduate students are still gravitating toward more traditional publishing houses.
A greater portion of Emerson grads are in “traditional publishing houses and magazines, both large and small, in varying positions” than are in startups, says Diercks. In addition to publishing houses, graduates are also finding work as e-book developers at companies like F+W Media, and arts editors at magazines and websites.
“While many students still seek positions in traditional publishing houses, some do look to digital-first and digital-only companies, including startups,” says NYU’s Chambers. “In some measure, this is due to our own emphasis upon digital and business innovation.”
According to Henningsgaard, PSU sees alumni employed in three categories: employment in the publishing industry, entrepreneurial and self-employment, and employing publishing skills outside of the publishing industry. “We probably see a lot more of the latter two categories than some other graduate programs with an emphasis in publishing, because of where we’re situated in the country,” says Henningsgaard, adding that many of the graduates aim to stay on the West Coast, where the publishing industry is smaller than in areas like the Northeast.
“I am very proud of the fact that nearly 60% of our students have jobs before they complete the program,” says Rosemont’s Willkomm, who adds that within five months of graduation, 94% of students are employed or are pursuing additional degrees. Students are finding full-time positions at larger houses, like HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, as well as at Philadelphia-based Running Press and Quirk Books.
Raskin says that Pace students find work in both traditional publishing and at startups—alumni have filled roles at the Big Five, and at digital pioneering companies, such as e-book publisher Rosetta Books. “Our mission is clear,” says Raskin: “to educate students in all aspects of the business, to educate students in all aspects of digital publishing, to place students in publishing internships, to use social networking to assist students in obtaining jobs.”