Dear Publishing. I love you, but right now I don’t like you very much. An open letter.
Dear Publishing Industry,
You were my home, my career, my life, for nearly 20 years. I bought my first flat on my publishing salary. I have a house full of amazing books that I have worked on due to my many publishing roles. When I was younger, I got to go to events at places I never could have afforded, I got to travel, I made lots of amazing friends, I even met my husband in publishing.
I have a lot to thank you for.
So please understand that it is with love and respect that I write you this letter. I left you two years ago, and I feel that the time has come when I should explain to you why I had to break up with you, even though we had some amazing times together.
Today The Bookseller published its research on the class divide in publishing. The survey found that 79% of people who identified as working class felt that their background had adversely affected their career, and the free text request for advice on what more could be done to support working class candidates progressing in the industry provoked what The Bookseller describes as “a blistering 62-page document for change”.
Let’s add to this the great data gathered by the Workplace Equity Project, who found that 96% of people in scholarly publishing have a Bachelors degree or higher. With student debt in the UK averaging over £50k, and with a further £7k added to this if you are from a socio-economically disadvantaged background, getting a degree or higher degree is becoming increasingly a luxury for the rich, and if you continue to demand degrees you are going to close down any diversity that you achieved back when degrees were free (or near enough) as in my case.
And do you really believe that 96% of jobs in scholarly publishing need a degree? I worked in production and operations, I’m not sure my degree ever contributed to my work. Do sales teams need a degree? Marketing? Really? Do you think, just maybe, you are, frankly, a bit prejudiced? A bit narrow-minded, perhaps?
I fell out of love with you two years ago, but I can’t quite seem to let you go and move on. I now work in diversity and inclusion, and — although I can work in any sector — I keep coming back to you. I regularly present at your conferences, I have been on the judging panel for the Inclusivity in Publishing Award for the last two years, and I teach diversity courses for both the Publishing Training Centre and ALPSP.
It is the last part that I want to talk to you about. The last PTC diversity training course, which was due to run in autumn 2018, was cancelled due to under-subscription. I found out yesterday that the next one, planned for March, has again been cancelled for the same reason. The ALPSP training course I ran earlier this month was attended, but the numbers were markedly lower than we would have expected.
I wonder, Publishing, what do you consider a more important use of your training budgets than taking positive steps to improve diversity? I’d love to know why you treat this issue with such cavalier disregard, yet continue to find the money to spend on other things.
You are still, and probably always will be, a dangerously seductive and appealing proposition. If you were on Tinder, I’d still swipe right. And I regularly watch on Twitter as you continue to attract more and more people to you, even though they are much less afraid to challenge you and to call out your faults than I was.
But I worry; I worry that these newer lovers believe — as I did — that they can change you, and I worry even more that, like me, they may not be able to. I worry that they too will get their hearts broken.
So, although I can see signs of hope that you are learning from your past mistakes, and although I am really pleased to finally see a light being cast on your faults, I’m afraid that you will continue to talk the talk without walking the walk. If you can’t even muster up a few people to send on a training course then I have, regretfully, to conclude that you just aren’t taking this issue seriously enough. In publishing we value words, but in this case they just aren’t enough.
I’m afraid you have a long way to go before you win me back. I need to see some real change. But right now all I see is talk.
I’ll always love you, but just at this minute I’m afraid I don’t like you very much.
I hope that this won’t always be the case, and if I can do anything to help you can always call on me.
With love and sadness,