Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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For love or money: employment in the Australian publishing industry in 2018

Books+Publishing surveyed over 300 readers to create a detailed picture of employment in the book industry in 2018. Small Press Network associate producer Jessica Harvie and Books+Publishing editor-in-chief Andrew Wrathall checked the stats. These results were originally publishing in Issue 4 of Books+Publishing magazine. This is an extended and updated version of that article.

In August 2018 Books+Publishing surveyed 349 people about their employment in the Australian book industry. The results enabled us to piece together a picture of the publishing employment landscape and build on a similar survey from 2013 (which included 263 respondents). This report focuses on full-time employees, as they were the vast majority of respondents (70%), with half of all respondents working full-time in a publishing house. We also cover part-time workers, who accounted for 18% of the survey’s respondents, and freelancers (8%). A further 4% of respondents were casual workers.

A majority (69%) of survey respondents reported working in-house at a publishing company (including full-time, part-time, casual and freelance staff). This comprised 43% working for a large publisher (with more than 30 employees), 16% working for a medium-sized publisher (with between 10 and 29 employees) and 10% working for a small publisher (with one to nine employees). 17% of respondents work in bookstores, while 27% work for libraries, writers centres, literary agencies, literary festivals or other organisations. There was some overlap, with several people reporting working in multiple sectors.

Respondents are highly qualified with over 93% having completed a tertiary qualification. When asked about the highest qualification they’d completed, 45% responded with a postgraduate qualification, 41% with a bachelor’s degree and 7% with a tertiary certificate or diploma.

This year’s survey included some questions about the identity of participants, with results showing respondents were overwhelmingly female (87%). Respondents also reported identifying with the LGBTQIA+ community (13%), as a person of colour (6%), a person living with a disability (3%), and/or as an Aboriginal person (1 person, 0.3%).

Table 1. Average salary per year according to job function in the book trade (full-time)

Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018

Show me the money

In 2018 the average salary for full-time editorial staff is $62,347 per year, having grown by 8% from $57,900 in 2013. Marketing and publicity staff salaries have shown little change in five years, with the average growing only marginally from $60,100 in 2013 to $60,207 in 2018. For production staff, the average salary has decreased from $56,700 in 2013 to $52,265 per annum—an 8% reduction.

According to the Australian Tax Office, the total change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from June 2013 to June 2018 was 10.2%. If the average salary for an editor grew at CPI levels, it would be $63,806 in 2018, $1459 more than the current average.

In 2018 there has been a 13% increase in pay for administration staff ($50,900 in 2013 to $57,563 in 2018), which means this is the only department where the average salary is increasing above CPI levels. Some respondents believe that those working in marketing and publicity get paid more than those in editorial and production; one respondent commented: ‘I have worked in several publishing companies and editorial work was paid less than sales and marketing jobs’. However the statistics from our survey tell a different story: the average salary for those working in marketing and publicity is actually slightly lower than that of editors.

In 2013 senior management staff across the publishing industry (including CEOs and owners) were earning about double that of administration workers. The past five years have seen a 10% fall in the average earnings for senior management, which means administration staff are now earning more than two-thirds the wage of senior management, on average. However, many senior management staff are still earning quite a bit of money. Almost half (49%) earn $90,000 or more per year and one fifth (20% of total) earn above $120,000 (see table 1). The highest salary a senior manager reported was $240,000 per year.

For full-time booksellers, the average annual salary of $49,433 has decreased by 8% from $53,865 over the past five years. The survey results show a small difference in the average salary for full-time booksellers working in chain stores ($49,500) and those working in independent stores ($50,367).

Table 2. Minimum wage for editors according to the Book Industry Award

Weekly pay rate ($)  Annual salary ($) (Weekly pay rate x 52)
Trainee book editor
(upon commencement)
874.00 45,448
Trainee book editor
(after 6 months)
929.10 48,313
Editor, Grade 1 978.00 50,856
Editor, Grade 4 1106.80 57,554
Senior Editor, Grade 1 1159.40 60,268
Senior Editor, Grade 3 1350.30 70,215

(Source: Yearly wages are calculated from the weekly minimum wage for book editors in the 2018 version of the Book Industry Award (2010) as specified by the Fair Work Ombudsman)

Table 3: Average editorial (full-time) salary based on experience (years)

Years working in the industry  Annual salary ($)
Up to 1 year 47,800
1 to 5 years 53,269
6 to 10 years 57,571
11 to 15 years 62,487
16 to 35 years 68,600

(Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018)

Working nine to five

The Book Industry Award 2010 defines an average of 38 hours per week as full time, yet more than half of survey respondents who are full-time employees in the book industry (51%) work 36 to 40 hours per week, including 59% of full-time editorial staff. However, many editorial staff (44%) and most senior management (64%) work over 40 hours per week, and several freelance (4%) and senior management staff (6%) reported working over 60 hours per week.

‘I work a portion of my hours from home after hours in order to leave early some afternoons for school pick-up. I am covered by an enterprise agreement that requires my employer to consider flexible arrangements,’ reported one survey respondent.

The Book Industry Award 2010 notes that every employee ‘must be allowed’ a break of between 30 and 60 minutes—yet a significant amount (70%) of survey respondents said that they sometimes (25%) or always (45%) work through their lunch break. Out of those who reported their lunch breaks (i.e. part-time and full-time employees, 262 respondents), over half (60%) said they had a 60 minute lunch break, with around a third (33%) stating they have a 30 minute lunch break, and the remaining floating between 40 and 50 minutes. Multiple respondents noted that they eat at their desk, while one respondent said that they receive ‘disapproval’ from their supervisor if they take the whole length of their legally entitled break.

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman said that ‘if an employee is required to work through a meal or rest break, they may be entitled to overtime’ in accordance with their award or agreement.

Table 4. Hours worked per job type

(Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018)

The cost of overtime

Most full-time in-house employees (84%) have received a bonus for their long hours—some (36.69%) receive an annual bonus tied to budgets, sales targets, KPIs or the company’s stock performance. Of course, many in-house staff receive free books (47%) or a staff discount on books (69%). More than a quarter of full-time workers have received a laptop or iPad (27%) as a work bonus.

Of the part-time staff, several respondents said that they work more than 30 hours, with some even working up to 60 hours per week. However, a third of part-time workers reported that they work for more than one organisation and tallied hours across more than one job—45% of which are editors.

A reason for the extra hours can be found in the question of overtime work. When asked if they work overtime, 45% of part-time staff said ‘sometimes’, 30% said ‘always’, 15% said ‘regularly’, 10% said ‘rarely’, but none of the respondents said ‘never’. Only 5% reported being paid for overtime, but 50% said they are able to take time in lieu. One respondent said: ‘Some of my work can be done remotely and outside of business hours, however if I did this I would not receive overtime pay or time in lieu.’

When looking at the book industry more widely, 78% of all survey respondents said they work some kind of overtime (18% always work overtime, 31% regularly work overtime and 29% sometimes work overtime). Worryingly, only 7% of book industry employees report being paid for overtime—when combined with the 53% of employees who can take time in lieu, we see that a staggering 40% of employees working overtime are not getting compensated by either being paid or taking time in lieu. (For this calculation, only people who identified as working overtime were included.) More information about hours of work, breaks and rosters can be found on the Fair Work website.

Travel for work

More than half of book industry employees travel for work at some point or another; many staff members (43%) are provided with paid travel to work-related conferences or events. When travelling, flights (83%) and accommodation (81%) are usually paid by for by the company. Food (61%), car hire (44%) and trains and buses (54%) are not as standard across respondents. Less than half (42%) of respondents enjoy travelling for work, with over a third (38%) sometimes enjoying it and the remainder (20%) not enjoying it or not answering the question.

Table 5: Average full-time salaries based on gender

Department Male Female Female income as a percent of male income
Senior management
(including CEOs and directors)
101,000 89,777 89%
Editorial 73,922 60,212 81%
Sales 67,875 55,889 82%
Marketing and publicity 68,000 59,190 87%

(Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018)

She works hard for the money

Although the Australian publishing industry is dominated by women, the survey found that female respondents are earning between 81-89% of the average salary of their male counterparts in the areas of management, editorial, sales, and marketing and publicity. As previously mentioned, most (87%) of the respondents were female. Books+Publishing readers are around 77% female (according to subscriber lists, reader surveys and Google Analytics) and the publishing industry has a similar gender make-up. The small percentage of male respondents in our survey means there is a lack of data for some departments, so they are not displayed in Table 5. However, it is evident that there is still a way to go in achieving gender pay equality in our industry.

Bearing in mind that the majority of respondents were female, 12% of women believe that having children affects their wage negatively. Many qualitative responses were critical of how employers deal with maternity leave; one respondent said: ‘Publishers do not take care of mothers, from little to no paid maternity leave to inflexible hours or unrealistic work loads for part-time workers. I and many others have been forced to freelance or to leave the industry.’ Another respondent added: ‘There is still the underlying perception that having a young child means you are unable to dedicate 100% to the job as a female.’

A lack of diversity

Out of 349 survey respondents, only one person reported identifying as an Indigenous person, while only 6% of respondents reported being a person of colour. 13% respondents reported being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and 3% reported living with a disability. Of respondents who identified as people of colour, 19% said they believe their race affects their wage negatively. Similarly, 6% of LGBTQIA+ and 32% of female and non-binary respondents respectively reported believing that their sexuality and gender affects their wage negatively.

One participant summarised the intersecting problems of low pay and lack of diversity: ‘Diversity or lack thereof is a huge problem, but who else can afford to work in underpaid jobs or in unpaid intern positions except for the wealthy and privileged?’

What is work anyway?

Most full-time workers in the industry (71%) said they read books or manuscripts for work and read them outside of work hours. No-one said they receive income for doing so, but most agreed that it is a work activity (86%). Over one third of respondents said that is a pleasurable activity (36%) and less than one third think of it as an educational activity (31%). One survey respondent said, ‘It can be a bit of both. Sometimes it’s “work” and can be stressful, but I try to read only what I want to read so that it still feels like a pleasure.’ Another respondent said, ‘It’s work and leisure at the same time.’

According to Fair Work, ‘It should be noted whether an employee is required to perform a particular task, and is therefore entitled to payment, may be clear in some instances—such as when an employee is directed by their employer—but at other times there may be a degree of ambiguity.’ However, ‘If an employee is required to perform particular tasks as part of their job, they must be paid for the time taken to perform those tasks.’

For full-time workers across the book industry responsible for updating a company social media account, more than one third (36%) do so outside work hours and only 1% of respondents receive income for doing so.

‘I think my manager and my company have a good attitude to wages and know that people should not be expected to work ridiculous hours without remuneration. Someone in my team works four days per week and has been discouraged from working or replying to emails on her day off as she is not being paid then,’ said one respondent.

We work for the love, not the money

The previous survey noted the common observation that, ‘We work for the love, not the money.’ This year’s survey asked respondents about the phrase and found that 38% have been asked to accept a lower wage, with the person in charge using this phrase or a similar phrase. One respondent said, ‘I haven’t heard that exact phrase used, but there’s a lot of pressure on those at entry-level positions to accept the wage they’re offered—in all highly competitive parts of the business, but especially in editorial.’

Most people surveyed (61%) believe wages are not being paid at the right level to reflect their skills and experience. Many written responses also reflected this:

  • ‘Industries dominated by women tend to be poorly paid, unfortunately. And yet we love our jobs and feel privileged to have them!’
  • ‘It is a specialised industry and general wages need to reflect that, which they currently do not.’
  • ‘Pay is very low for roles that generally require tertiary education.’
  • ‘I love the industry but it’s incredibly underpaid. I might have to think about moving to a different industry in a few years if I ever want more from my lifestyle—like travelling overseas or buying an apartment.’
  • ‘I accepted a lower wage as this was my first paid industry job and I chose to enter the industry I’m passionate about over higher paid work I would not enjoy.’

As one respondent summarised: ‘It’s a wonderful industry to work in, and there are plenty of non-monetary perks. While I believe we are mostly underpaid, I wouldn’t swap the book industry for any other.’

Working hard to make a living

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with wages, there was a sense of loyalty conveyed across most responses—even though many respondents reported working through lunch breaks (71%), not expecting a pay rise in the future (37%) and working overtime (78%). 83% of all book industry employees stated that they enjoy their job to some degree and most (71%) plan to stay with their current employer, although some (13%) expressed a desire to leave. More than one third (35%) said they are likely to receive a pay rise over the next two years if they stay in their current job and some (28%) said this is moderately likely.

‘Wages in publishing in Australia (and the rest of the world) are woefully inadequate and a change needs to happen,’ said another respondent. ‘I have to live close to the city for my role as it involves a lot of outside of work hours travel. More than half my (monthly!) wage is taken up with essential bills—rent, utilities, travel costs, and at times I am expected to pay out of pocket and expense later. Publishing is pushing out the best people to help shape our industry because of low wages, and it needs to change.’

Nonetheless, some wages have increased since this survey was last conducted in 2013. Employees are also reporting similar levels of job satisfaction, even though people appear to do more work outside work hours—including working through lunch, reading and updating social media—and are not being remunerated for it.


A small amount (8%) of respondents identified as being freelancers. Out of those, over one third (41%) work for six or more companies, 22% of respondents work for only one or two companies, 26% for three companies, and 11% for four or five companies. The majority of freelance respondents work part-time hours, with 73% of people working fewer than 35 hours per week, and 23% reporting that they work every day of the week (Monday through to Sunday).

A high proportion of freelancers believe that they are not being paid at the right level to reflect their skills and experience, with 77% expressing this compared with the 61% for in-house book industry employees. ‘Freelance budgets have not increased since I worked in-house ten years ago and was briefing freelancers,’ one respondent said. Other responses reflected this too: ‘While I absolutely love being freelance, I do think it’s a bit sad that the only way I could achieve a decent pay rise was to leave my in-house job and go out on my own, where at least if I work crazy hours, I (generally) get paid for them.’

Many qualitative statements explained that rates have not increased over the last decade despite CPI increases—and in some cases, rates have decreased: ‘Fees for freelance editorial work have not increased in the past ten years, and some companies now offer lower fees than they have in the past, particularly if a project is a digital-only publication. It’s not unusual to be expected to edit a digital publication for half the fee offered for a project that will become a physical book.’

Despite this, job satisfaction in freelancers appears to be higher than that of other respondents, with 88% of freelancers reporting they enjoy their job to some degree, compared with 83% of in-house book industry employees who reported the same thing. One respondent noted that they’ve been ‘forced into freelancing’, while another posited that ‘publishers and authors rely on freelancers’.

Table 6. Average salary of freelancers

Salary range Percentage of respondents
$0 – $10,000 4%
$10,000 – $20,000 26%
$20,000 – $30,000 7%
$30,000 – $40,000 19%
$40,000 – $50,000 11%
$50,000 – $60,000 11%
More than $60,000 22%

(Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018)

Table 7. Average hours worked by freelancers

Hours worked per week Percentage of respondents
1-10 hours 15%
11-20 hours 19%
21-25 hours 15%
26-30 hours 7%
31-35 hours 15%
36-40 hours 4%
41-45 hours 7%
46-50 hours 7%
51-55 hours 7%
55-60 hours 0%
More than 60 hours 4%

(Source: Books+Publishing employment survey, August 2018)

Employees who are seeking advice on their specific situation are encouraged to visit the Fair Work website or call its Infoline on 13 13 94 for tailored assistance.

Books+Publishing acknowledges the hard work of its inhouse editorial staff, particularly Kelsey Oldham and Sarah Farquharson, for editing this feature article and helping to put together the survey.



Category: Features Magazine feature story