books · Publishing

Money in Publishing


We joke that there is no money to be made in books, but what do the numbers really say about the publishing industry? What does the future look like for people who want to edit novels, design book covers, or market memoirs?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published its updated report on publishing industries. (For those of you more hip to the coding system than I am, that would be NAICS 511.) The report includes information on workforce statistics, income levels, injury rates, and workplace trends in the US

Though people perform hundreds of different jobs related to books including working in warehouses, e-commerce, and web design, the report highlights only a few of them. The abbreviated wage table below looks at the hourly and annual wages for advertising sales agents, editors, graphic designers, and reporters and correspondents. As you can see, most people in publishing make between $30,000-$50,000. That salary range isn’t completely dismal, but it also means that no one is going to make his or her fortune by working in book production. Unfortunately many of the largest publishing houses such as Penguin, HarperCollins, Ballantine, Berghahn and about 150 others are based in expensive cities like New York. $35,000 is much harder to live on in a city like that than in some other places. (Though it also looks like editors make marginally more than the other job categories. That may partially be a result of the pressure for them to have several graduate degrees or it may be a consequence of the ‘prestige’ of the role.)

Publishing Earnings by Occupation.PNG

It doesn’t help that over the past 15 years, the publishing industry has employed fewer and fewer people. Over a million people worked for the industry in 2001, but today, it employs only a little more than 700,000 individuals.

Publishing Industry Employees.PNG

So in terms of the number of people employed, the industry is shrinking. For individuals who want to grow up to work in books editing, production, or marketing, this isn’t great news, but it may simply mean that people need to be creative  about how they work with books. After all, most people don’t get into publishing because they think it will bring them fame and riches. They work with books because they love words, or design, or one of the other related categories. (But I don’t think many of them would mind if a little more money was added to the salary pot.)

Regardless, it will certainly be interesting to see how self-publishing and the rise of ebooks continues to alter the landscape of publishing. Maybe traditional publishing houses will reconfigure their structures. Maybe independent publishers will begin to take on a larger portion of the industry. Or maybe we’ll go back to selling books out of carts. Who knows?




All information and tables taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Industries at a Glance: Publishing Industries (except Internet): NAICS 511,” United States Department of Labor., accessed 10/4/2106.

Image Attributions:

Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, “Customers in the Book Department at Selfridge’s Department Store in London during 1942,” Imperial War Museums, 1942.

“Carro Biblico, Claudiana, Italy,”


3 thoughts on “Money in Publishing

  1. Very interesting (and somewhat depressing) post, Kristen. Looks like I need to stop writing and go to work boxing books for Amazon, or maybe sweep out the warehouse on the midnight shift. I’ve always wondered why, in these current times, youthful editors for the “Big Guys” hold pocketsful of degrees but very little “life” experience. Yet these are the people who control a given writer’s fate. While someone VERY QUALIFIED by years of on-the-job-training stands zero chance of landing such a job. Sour grapes? Maybe, but it’s never made sense to me. Thanks for the info! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is often a very particular (or maybe it is peculiar) culture in editorial departments. And, of course, when hiring, people end up looking for individuals with similar backgrounds to themselves, so departments can lack diversity unless they put forth a conscious effort to find that different life experience. It’s a tough problem.

      Liked by 1 person

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