Like most workers in the U.S., employees at publishing houses had difficulty keeping up with inflation last year. The median raise reported by the 618 respondents to PW’s annual salary and job survey was 3.4% in 2022, whereas prices were up 6.5% over 2021. While 25% of respondents reported getting a raise of 6% or higher, that was offset by the 20% who said they received no raise at all. In surveys prior to the pandemic, the median annual increase typically hovered between 3% and 4%, but that was when inflation was increasing at a more moderate rate.

But there are some caveats regarding the 3.4% raise: excluding those who didn’t receive any raise, the average increase was 5.6% last year, substantially closer to the inflation rate. And when bonuses are added in, total compensation for all respondents was up about 6% over 2021, landing at $72,000 in 2022.

Still, the combination of modest raises and low starting salaries was one of the big factors that drove the HarperCollins union to strike in November 2022. After a three-month walkout, the union won an increase in starting salary from a minium of $45,000 to $47,500, with that figure set to hit $50,000 on Jan. 1, 2025.

The HC strike was part of a larger push by publishing employees, which prompted the Big Five trade publishers and Scholastic to raise entry salaries by between 18% and 34% in 2023 compared to 2020. In this year’s PW survey, 17% of respondents said they made less than $50,000 in 2022, down from 19% in 2021. It will be interesting to see if the minimum salary levels employees won at the biggest publishers will lift total industry median income in next year’s survey.

Low pay is always the major complaint of publishing employees about their working conditions, and that was the case in the latest survey: 62% of those with low job satisfaction cited low salaries as their number one complaint, and 57% cited increased workloads. That said, the majority of respondents, 86%, said they were satisfied with their job to at least some degree, with 50% very satisfied and 36% somewhat satisfied.

Minor demographic shifts

The change in the demographic makeup of those who responded to the latest survey (65% of whom work at trade houses) was modest. Eighty-one percent of respondents were white, down from 83% in last year’s survey. Hispanic representation rose from 5% to 6%, and 5% of respondents identified as Asian, up from 4%.

Women’s share of the workforce in 2022 was 77%, even with the prior year, but the share of male respondents fell two percentage points, to 18%. The percentage of respondents who identified as nonbinary rose to 5% from 3%.

There was little change in the gender pay gap, even as more women moved into management ranks; the survey found women in management had a median income of $120,000. Men in management had a median income of $110,000. Overall, however, median compensation for men was $89,000 in 2022, while median compensation for women was $70,000.

The reasons for the disparity haven’t changed: while 56% of managers who responded were women, women have an even greater presence in the lower-paying areas of editorial, sales and marketing, and operations. And the median length of time in the industry from male respondents was 21 years, compared to 10 years for women.

Other highlights

• Respondents worked an average of 40 hours per week in 2023. Hours worked was consistent from a year before. Overall, 80% of respondents were working the same number of hours, 14% were working fewer hours, and 6% were working more hours per week than they were in 2022.

• The current state of the economy and publishing seem to be weighing more on employees. Fifty percent of respondents said they feel somewhat secure in their current position, down from 56% in the previous survey, and 30% said they feel somewhat or very insecure, up from 21%. Twenty percent said they feel very secure.

• Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they expect to be at their current companies in 2024, with 36% reporting they expect to be in their current positions, while 26% are hoping they will be in higher-level positions. Nine percent expect to change careers, and 15% said they are unsure where they’ll be in 2024.

• Nine out of 10 respondents said that their companies have implemented remote work policies. The companies that have specific requirements about time spent in office expect employees to be on site an average of two days per week, but more than half of respondents said their companies do not have such requirements.

AI policies and book bans

The most discussed topics in publishing this year have been how the industry is dealing with—or preparing to deal with—the impact of generative AI, as well as the ongoing fight over book banning.

A slight majority of survey respondents said their companies have made efforts to combat book banning and other forms of censorship, while 26% said their companies have taken no initiatives.

Given the chance to comment on book banning, more than half of respondents provided examples of what their companies were doing to fight the bans. One of the most common responses was that their companies were working with a number of organizations such as the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and PEN America in support of their anti-censorship efforts. Another common response was to continue to publish the works that are currently being banned and to continue to publish authors whose books face the possibility of being banned in the future. In something of a corollary to that sentiment, one respondent said their company stands against “requests from employees to cease distribution of any title they don’t agree with.”

A respondent from a large publisher said an action the company has taken is to offer favorable terms to bookstores on books from their imprints that are being challenged, as well as those from their distribution clients. In that same vein, numerous respondents said their companies create a variety of resources for authors, bookstores, and libraries to use to fight challenges.

One respondent summarized why fighting book banning is essential to the entire publishing community. “Our company is dedicated to publishing precisely the books that are being banned,” they wrote. “Our continued existence depends on the fight against censorship and banning.”

In terms of AI, nearly one-third of respondents said they didn’t know if their companies were using AI in any capacity, while 45% said their companies were not using the technology. Of the 23% who said their companies have implemented AI, 47% said they were using it in a marketing capacity and 25% said they were using it in editorial.

The PW survey was fielded over the summer, and given the technology’s rapid evolution, it is likely more companies have added AI since then. Because AI is so new, the industry members who responded offered mixed comments about it. On the plus side, they pointed to AI’s ability to reduce mundane tasks, improve workflow, and aid in identifying trends. On the negative side, they said they are worried about copyright issues, job losses, and the loss of the “human touch” in various parts of the publishing process.