Bookcareers salary survey: ask a simple question...

Suzanne Collier
Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Suzanne Collier reports on the progress of the Bookcareers salary survey, from vilification to acceptance

It was a simple question: please can you tell me if this is a good salary for the job I've been offered? Yet back in 1995, when I was chair of the SYP (Society of Young Publishers), there was no way to discover what people in various roles in book publishing were being paid - the only thing you ever learned about publishing salaries was that they were "too low". No one talked about it - in some companies, discussing pay with colleagues was classed as gross misconduct.

It was this question that spurred me to launch a Salary Survey, originally with the SYP and then under the name.

I don't think anyone could have predicted what would happen when the 1995 results were published. A barrage of criticism followed, mainly from publishing executives. The prevailing philosophy was that salaries were a matter for the individual and the employer, and should not be discussed. One senior figure accused me of manipulating the data to show the salaries, particularly at entry level, artificially high - it meant, he complained, that he would have to pay his staff more.

The complaint did lead me to go back to the raw data and extract what we now refer to as the entry level salary - (19 to 23 years old, less than six months in the industry, and less than six months in a job). But even then, the difference between the new figure and the original entry level salary quoted was less than £250.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Board level staff were in fear of the survey, as they believed it would lead to a rush of employees asking for pay rises. To my knowledge, this has not happened, although we have provided salary and benchmarking data to many companies and individuals.

It took about seven years and four surveys for the tide to turn. An HR director from one of the big five houses said to me: "I hate your survey". When I asked why, the reply was: "Because as soon as the results go live, the ceo phones me and asks me how we compare." I realised then that the war over the publication of salaries was being won.

Since then, the original 20-question survey has grown, both in the number of respondents and in the data we collate - information that is now used widely across the industry, including in the Publishers Association Yearbook, as it provides vital information on demographics and employment trends, such as diversity, age, gender, education, skills, stress and morale, as well as salaries. We follow market research guidelines in analysing the results and, as from the start, guarantee anonymity.

In 2017, we are in a very different publishing climate. Employers know they need to be competitive on pay and remuneration to attract and retain the best staff. Companies of over 250 employees are required to publish gender differentials on salaries*, and we need to be able to gauge the impact that digital publishing is having on employment demographics. For instance, did you know that in 2013 people who worked on digital products were getting paid up to 9.2% more than people who worked solely on print only products?

More importantly, from a perspective, the data allows those pursuing publishing as a career to make informed decisions at all levels. Entry level editorial assistants, for example, can see what salaries they could receive on progressing through the ranks, as assistant editors, desk editors, commissioning editors or publishers. It means that they come into this industry with their eyes fully open.

We do still need further transparency on pay, but the salary survey (sponsored by Inspired Selection) goes a long way towards making that happen. You can contribute your details here:


Suzanne Collier is the founder of, a career development consultancy focused on book publishing. She provides qualified career guidance at all levels for those within the industry.
@suzannecollier @bookcareers

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