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Transferable skills

Book Publishing has a reputation for being notoriously underpaid, but how do we even know what people are being paid?

Back in 1995, Suzanne Collier ran her first Salary Survey, causing uproar within the industry. No one ever talked about pay and publishers were highly suspicious of the survey as they thought it would lead to a rush of staff demanding rises. This didn’t materialise, although one Managing Director complained about the results because they thought the salaries were too high!

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It pays to work in independent publishing

Ahead of BookMachine’s event on pay and working conditions in publishing, the Independent Publishers Guild’s chief executive Bridget Shine looks at working life in the indie sector. 

In independent publishing, people really matter. At the IPG, we talk regularly to members about pay and conditions, and are often struck by just how much they value their staff.

That’s because in the relatively small teams of many IPG members, the contribution of every member is vital. When we undertook our biggest ever survey of members for our first Independent Publishing Report late last year, we found they employ an average of 9.3 staff—so each of them is valuable and valued. The report also showed the importance that our members place on training, and we have responded to that by increasing the learning opportunities that we offer as part of membership, including new online training packages and bursaries for those who want to improve specific skills.

We get more insights into conditions in independent publishing through our salary surveys, the most recent of which suggested that pay at all levels of publishing was increasing steadily if modestly, despite all the challenges and uncertainty in the market. It showed too how independent publishers make good use of perks and incentives to reward staff. Bonus schemes, linked to either company-wide or individual performances, and sometimes including share options, are becoming more popular. When small teams need to pull together and chip in to a multitude of tasks, these schemes can be excellent incentives.

Publishers supplement pay in lots more ways. Our salary survey found that four in five offer flexible working, for example—something that is really appreciated by staff who want to balance work and family life. Other perks include private health or life insurance, enhanced maternity pay, season ticket loans and study leave.

The IPG has a huge range of members, from big international operators down to tiny start-ups, and the scale of pay and benefits naturally varies enormously. But what companies have in common is the awareness that great staff are absolutely pivotal to their success, and an eagerness to recognize and reward good performance.

It is pleasing to note that this loyalty is reciprocated. Staff in independent publishing—and first or second jobbers in particular—tell us that their companies offer responsibilities and opportunities for progression that can be harder to come by at larger companies. “When you work in a small team you take on more responsibility to cover the workload, so you develop your skills and knowledge a lot faster,” Carcanet’s Katie Caunt said in our ‘Me and My Job’ series recently. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to see the whole machine… In a small independent you can really immerse yourself in every part,” said Salt’s Chris Hamilton-Emery. Working for conglomerates can be rewarding too, but IPG members offer some terrific and unique experiences and opportunities. They are great places to start and build careers.

Your pay – your say: Gareth Lowe interview

Gareth Lowe is the Chair of Unite’s National Publishing and Media Branch and works as Publishing Programme Manager for DK, part of Penguin Random House. Gareth will be hosting our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘. We interviewed him here. 

1) How do you think that pay and conditions in the publishing industry differ today, to how they were 20 years ago?

Book publishing’s always been known as a fairly low paid industry. That hasn’t changed, but we have seen major publishing houses awarding under-inflationary pay rises in recent years. That means that real wages are getting worse for many in the industry. On the other hand, there are a number of roles where wages are growing massively, including roles working with new, digital technologies and also executive roles.

Over the past two decades we’ve seen publishers merging and buying each other out. It also seems to me that it’s a tougher climate to run an independent publishing house now than it was 20 years ago. These factors combined mean we’re not seeing improvements in conditions for many workers, and in a number of cases, terms and conditions are being eroded with employees preferring to simply hold on to their jobs.

2) Why have Unite collaborated with BookMachine to discuss this important topic?

Pay and conditions are essential to the health of our industry. They determine how those of us who work in book publishing are rewarded, and also whether young people are incentivised to join our trade. BookMachine provides the perfect partner for Unite to get our message out and reach today’s modern publishing workforce.

3) As an industry, what have you seen done to improve pay and conditions, that has impressed you?

Especially in times of economic hardship, it’s necessary to think outside of the box as to how to reward employees. I’ve seen minimum pay increases become more common – these are a great way of helping out the poorest and levelling wage gaps without sending a company into financial ruin. Also there have been some very creative uses of non-financial incentives that really make a difference to employees!

4) What do you hope to learn from the event on the 14th?

We’ve such top class contributors to this event, all of whom are coming at the topic from different viewpoints. I expect a lively debate that will make myself and all the other attendees think. And it won’t be too heavy, either – if last year’s event was anything to go by, people should have a great time whilst they get educated!

5) If one of our readers can’t attend the event, what else can they do to find out more?

Sign up to the union here. Find out if your workplace recognises the union, and if so, who your best point of contact is. Speak to them about the situation in your workplace. Once signed up, keep an eye on communications from Unite’s National Publishing and Media Branch. I’d encourage anyone interested to get involved, really – change only happens when we make it so.

Grab your ticket for ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?’ on the 14th July here.

Your pay – your say: Tania Hummel interview

Tania Hummel is an executive coach and board-level HR professional. She has worked in HR for almost 20 years and was most recently Global HR Director for Macmillan Science and Education. Tania will be speaking at our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘. We interviewed her here. 

1) How do you think that pay and conditions in the publishing industry differ today, to how they were 20 years ago?

The publishing industry has seen enormous change over the last 20 years. The rise of Amazon, the advent of ebooks, and changes in the way that rights are bought and sold have transformed the industry in ways that couldn’t have been predicted before the internet age. Consumers now expect content to be delivered in a variety of ways, whether as print, ebooks, audio, games. Publishers have become multi-media, multi-platform content providers and new skills and ways of working are still evolving.

Things felt a lot more certain 20 years ago, and this was reflected in the terms and conditions at the time. Publishing with its low margins and long lead times paid less than other skilled industries, and Publishers took a more ‘paternalistic’ approach generally to pay and benefits. In a more uncertain (VUCA) world, Defined Benefit pension schemes have become unaffordable, and benefits that reward long service are less attractive to staff who can’t really afford to work for too long at any one employer, as moving on is often the only way of securing a substantial pay rise.

Many jobs were outsourced quite early on – proofreading, typesetting and some editorial roles. Sometimes to freelancers in the UK, while other roles or tasks like publishing services went abroad to places like India. It’s likely that publishing will continue to buy in the skills it needs from outside the industry, and that roles within the industry will also continue to change. Some will become more skilled, whilst others are likely to be automated and disappear. In any event, I expect to see more freelancing, not less, in line with predictions of the rise in the ‘gig’ economy.

2) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who didn’t think that they were being treated fairly in the workplace?

It depends on the facts of the situation. Being treated fairly can mean different things to different people. If the situation was a one-off and seemed uncharacteristic of the culture, I’d encourage the individual to check their company’s grievance policy for guidance and to raise their concerns informally in the first instance with a sympathetic HR contact. Failing that, I’d suggest that they approach ACAS or their union rep if they have one.

3) What can publishing professionals do before accepting a new job, to make sure that their working conditions are acceptable?

They can do an internet search, or visit Glassdoor or similar sites for reviews on working for the company. These aren’t always entirely objective but it’s a good start. They could also ask people in their network who already work for their potential new employer for their views. They should also look at the contract and handbook at the offer stage, which should give a good idea of how things are generally handled. Having few policies can mean things are very much at the manager’s discretion, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the manager. Having overly rigid policies on everything can also be a disadvantage.

4) What should be taken into consideration when deciding to work for either a large publishing house, or a smaller company?

There are pros and cons to both. In a larger publishing house there are likely to be better opportunities for promotion, training and development. But it can be harder to get noticed, and it may well be more competitive. Jobs might also be quite narrow. Smaller companies can be surprisingly good on benefits, but sometimes there aren’t any to speak of. That said, roles tend to be broader and, if the company is growing, you might be able to grow with it, taking on extra responsibility and learning by doing, but the downside might be that a smaller company is also likely to pay less than a larger one for a similar role.

5) As an industry, what have you seen done to improve pay and conditions, that has impressed you?

Some publishers have been really good at creating profit sharing schemes – if the company makes it’s profit target it’s only fair that the staff should benefit from that, especially at a time when inflation is so low and pay awards are too.

Grab your ticket for ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?’ on the 14th July here.

life as a freelancer

Walking the tightrope: life as a freelancer

In the run up to, United, We Publish, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions on UNITE-focused topics such as training, pay, employment law and flexible working. This is a guest post by John Pettigrew. John is CEO and Founder of We Are Futureproofs, where he is trying to make editors’ lives better with software designed for the jobs we actually do. A recovering editor himself, John has been working in publishing since 1997, including stints on academic journals, educational textbooks, and print and digital materials of all kinds. Read more on the Futureproofs blog and website.

Life as a freelancer can be tricky balancing act. On the one hand, you have the need to do enough work to live on and (therefore) to make sure your clients are happy. On the other hand, you have the need to actually get paid for that work – which can be decidedly difficult!

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