Publishing professionals these days might look around, see an industry in a state of flux, and wonder what’s going to happen next. PW spoke with administrators at top graduate publishing programs in the U.S. and Canada to see how they are preparing students for an industry that is continually evolving.

John Rodzvilla, graduate program director of the M.A. in publishing and writing and senior electronic-publisher-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston, says that students are focusing on more different types of publishing than in the past: “It used to be they were coming in and wanting to do trade; now we have students who are pushing for small press publishing or small literary presses, and there’s a lot of interest in self-publishing.” But, he points out, students aren’t necessarily setting out to follow the latest business trends; instead, he says, “they are following cultural trends.”

Hands-on Experience

The consensus is that students are looking for a more broad-based, practical education that will prepare them for whatever the future of publishing might hold. To that end, Emerson is relying more and more on “experiential” learning. Instead of internships, for example, it has developed a publishing studio as a place where students can talk directly with publishing professionals.

Andrea Chambers, director of the M.S. program in publishing: digital and print media at the NYU School of Professional Studies, agrees that there is a growing emphasis on experiential learning. “We have a very large internship program,” she says. And though other school’s internship programs start later, NYU wants its students to “get a sense of how publishing works the moment they start,” with a curriculum designed to give students a broad-based knowledge of all publishing functions.

Chambers says that NYU’s program stresses innovation in publishing, embracing new business strategies and business models, integrating digital publishing into the curriculum, and introducing new courses. One such course, on startups, filled up in just one week.

“We don’t have different tracks,” Chambers says. “Students need a well-rounded education. They need skills to survive in today’s environment. Editors need to know all aspects of the industry—how to work with authors on social media, knowledge of publishing law. Our philosophy is different in that we require students to take courses in all areas.”

Assignments are based on what students will be doing on the job. Chambers says: “They’re editing manuscripts; they’re analyzing marketing trends. The final project is creating a business brand for a new media venture. It’s very hands-on and practical.”

Chambers continues: “As e-book sales flatten, we are adapting our curriculum; we’re discussing other platforms and other forms of distribution, with a new emphasis on audiobooks. We’ve added industry visits, podcasts, content and marketing tools. We want our students to be nimble. The industry is in evolution, and they need to understand the reach and power of digital in all aspects.”

Suzanne Norman, lecturer at Simon Fraser University’s publishing program in British Columbia, takes a different view. She prefers to call it the “resilience” of print rather than a resurgence, saying that “it’s always been there.” She adds: “Before e-books, we’ve always had ups and downs. It’s more steady in Canada than it is in the U.S.; e-books have gained a little bit this year, and audio is probably a very small percentage, but it’s growing. We’re pulling in elements as they’re happening in a real-time way. But rejigging? Nope.”

International Diversity

Sherman Raskin, director of the publishing program at Pace University in New York City, says, “What makes us unique is that we train students so that they understand the business. We have students working diligently in books and magazines—at major publishers across the country.”

And not just across the country. Raskin is proud of the fact that Pace has connections with two of China’s largest publishing organizations—China Publishing Group and Media Publishing Group—and that more than 300 Chinese executives have come to train in his program. He notes that Pace just had two students from China’s Beijing Graphic Communications come to New York to complete their studies.

Rodzvilla says that, though Emerson has students from Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, India, and Pakistan and saw continued growth of numbers of overseas students this year, the changes in immigration and visa policies could curtail future growth. “We had a weird moment there,” he notes. “We were in the process of accepting students when all [the first efforts to restrict immigration] happened. This year is going to be the year that shows what’s happening. It will be telling.”

NYU’s Chambers emphasizes the importance of students having an extensive knowledge of the international publishing scene, saying: “Our students continue to attend international book fairs and conferences. They recently returned from Frankfurt and are now preparing for the London Book Fair.” The Shanghai Book Fair is a possibility as well.

That interest in international publishing is reflected in NYU’s students, Chambers notes, 32% of whom are from abroad, including students from China, Europe, India, South America, and two from Kazakhstan.

At Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Marshall Warfield, director of the M.A. in publishing program, says: “I’m excited about our diversity. We’ve got students from Saudi Arabia, one from Mexico, two from India. Some are just out of college, some are looking for career change in their 50s. We even have a student who survived the Rwandan genocide.”

Students’ Goals

Jill Smith, director of the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, notes that its program strives to show students the different kinds of publishing jobs that are available. She says that, though many students come hoping to one day “find the next great American novel,” it is Denver’s responsibility to “show them the breadth of career opportunities open to them” beyond just working in editorial.

The Denver program lets students try out different skills and determine for themselves whether they really are cut out to be editors or may be better suited to work in another department such as marketing or sales, Smith explains.

Rosemont, too, has added an M.B.A.-level course in financial principles and policies as part of the school’s seven core courses.

At Pace, Raskin points out that many of their students are in the humanities. “They love writing and critical analysis and want to find an opportunity in publishing to use their skills,” he says. “They become great editors, marketers—they want a future in publishing.”

At SFU, Norman notes a new willingness among students to go out and become entrepreneurs: “We have students who want to start their own media companies; they’re not looking for specific roles. We’ve had people who want to be in-house editors or designers, as well as people who are looking at peripheral industries like Amazon or Google or other business models. They want to be more of the change: less routed directly into the publishing houses, more options that allow them to change the industry.”

Emerson’s Rodzvilla also sees a growing interest among students in changing the publishing industry. “I think they’re trying to figure out what’s going on—how publishing can reflect their views,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of discussions on the need for diverse books—on the monoculture that is the publishing industry and how that needs to change. They want to change it, and they’re concerned about how it can change. They want to really push for it.”

At Rosemont, Warfield sees an increased desire among his students to make a difference. One, for example, wants to create a platform for veterans to tell their stories. But, he says, what they all want to do after graduation is to go back to their communities or countries of origin, or to work with marginalized groups, and use the skills they learned to help amplify the voices of others. “That,” Warfield says, “makes me proud.”

The Job Market

The general feeling is that the job market is strong and will continue to be so. Raskin points out that though the industry is always challenging because of cuts in many areas that eliminate existing jobs, startups and small publishers often pick up the slack.

Warfield shares that optimism, based on the number of emails he’s receiving announcing both new positions and internships.

Chambers adds: “The market is looking pretty good. We’re getting emails from publishers asking us to help fill editorial content jobs and sales positions, there’s lots of digital and working on the digital side, there are positions in analytics.” And Chambers notes that literary agencies are hiring: “It used to be hard to break in, but now they’re hiring assistants—they’re hiring young agents.”