Meri Paterson

The ideas business and other interests

A SWOT analysis of publishing

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If someone was considering (trade) publishing as a career, what might they take into account?

Note that some of these points are based on my best guesses, so if you’re here because you’ve got a job offer, do do your own research into a company as they might have very different policies and culture. I know all of this hasn’t always applied to the companies I’ve worked at.

Strengths

As an industry:

  • Product has mass appeal — anyone who can read is a potential customer
  • Product is cheaply priced, so customer base potentially broad
  • Cheap labour

As a career:

  • Pleasant white-collar work that involves reading and talking about books with like-minded people
  • Low-pressure compared to something like banking or law
  • Creative (once you leave entry level)
  • Collegiate environment with a sense of fun
  • Possibility to meet interesting and famous people
  • No particular training or qualification necessary to enter

Weaknesses

As an industry:

  • Poor visibility of which products customers are likely to want to buy, before any time or money spend
  • Slow production (a book can take over a year to publish), so vulnerable to trends changing faster than you can respond to
  • Unusually favourable arrangements with customers (such as long returns periods and having to pay for space and promotions in shops) makes forward-planning and sales forecasting difficult
  • Low pay makes attracting top people hard
  • Homogeneity of workforce (largely white, British, female, middle-class and left-leaning) could lead to groupthink and therefore missing threats and opportunities

As a career:

  • Low pay all the way until very senior positions
  • Limited number of entry-level jobs, so competition is tough
  • Working on your own time common
  • Poor amount-of-work/hours-in-the-day ratios in many jobs
  • Not usually flexible enough for working parents
  • London-centric

Opportunities

As an industry:

  • Monetising content in new ways — for example, apps based on diet books
  • Parts of society still to convert into readers if appealing content can be produced (for example, more children’s books with BAME lead characters)
  • Audiobooks are proving to be one good way to find new readers in people who were previously not interested in print books
  • Better sales and market research could improve success rate of products

As a career:

  • Bringing new skills into a old-fashioned industry can give you an edge — especially data interpretation and manipulation
  • Skills are transferable — copy writing and editing will stay relevant in the internet age

Threats

As an industry:

  • Strong downward trend of book sales over many years
  • Self-publishing — traditional publishers’ punishing terms may lead to loss of authors to more attractive alternatives
  • Readers beginning to prefer short-form content to long-form
  • Amazon becoming more monopolistic

As a career:

  • Depending on the job, may be vulnerable to being automatised or switching to freelancers

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