June 15, 2016

Book publishers have shed 25,000 jobs over the last two decades, but hey, at least we’re not newspapers



To the right is a chart of employment numbers in the newspaper, periodical, book, and internet publishing industries over the last twenty-five years. The data, along with mean salary and employment numbers, broken out by occupation, was released earlier this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In case you can’t tell (or guess), that line making a swan dive from the top left into the x-axis is the newspaper industry, the obnoxiously green line self-righteously ascending from the bottom left is internet publishing and broadcasting, and the other two, morosely drifting into obscurity, are the periodical (dark green) and book (red) publishing industries.

So there’s good news and bad news here for book publishers. The good news is they’re not in the newspaper business. The bad news is that they’re in the book business.

Just kidding! (Kinda.)

From the BLS summary:

Few industries have been affected by the digital or information age as much as newspapers and other traditional publishing industries (books, magazines, etc.). In June 1990, there were nearly 458,000 people employed in the newspaper publishing industry; by March 2016, that figure had fallen to about 183,000, a decline of almost 60 percent. Over the same period, employment in Internet publishing and broadcasting rose from about 30,000 to nearly 198,000.

Thad McIlroy at The Future of Publishing offers this summary of the book publishing data:

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that employment in the book publishing industry dropped by over a quarter (25.7%) since spring 2006 and nearly a third (32.5%) from its peak 20 years ago.

Let’s zoom in on the books line in order to get a better sense of the decline.

chart (1)

Yep, not looking good.

In response to a comment citing relatively flat book sales over this same span, McIlroy suggests that consolidation (oh, the consolidation), and the pursuit of “efficiency,” are responsible for most of the drop, rather than plummeting revenues (as is the case with the newspaper-pocalypse). Of course, what goes completely unmentioned here is the rise of Amazon’s retail monopoly, which more or less coincides with the span covered by the graph.

Without more detailed data, or more time to parse it, it’s difficult to say what, if any, correlation exists between employment numbers and ongoing consolidation, recession, and monopolistic bullying. It is, however, probably safe to assume that some combination of the three factors heavily into the losses the industry has experienced over the last several decades. Amazon’s monopoly isn’t going anywhere, though it may stabilize, and the consolidation has been underway for a solid sixty years. Barring the collapse of western civilization/liberal-consensus capitalism, we’re stuck with both. If the industry is going to grow in a way that does not exclusively reward the management and executive class (take a look at the wage information included in the BLS report),  it’s going to have to find a way around these two massive obstacles.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.