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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Bridget Jones, wages and gender gaps
By the BBC's media correspondent Nick Higham

Among the many misfortunes with which Bridget Jones had to grapple - cigarettes and alcohol, chocolate and Chardonnay, men and her mother - was the fact that she was a woman working in publishing.

Publishing, as a recent survey confirmed, is one of the worst-paid of all professions.


If all else fails, publishing's exploited masses can follow Bridget Jones's lead and look for a job in television

And, despite the fact that it's populated almost entirely by highly-educated, highly-motivated, highly articulate graduates, a majority of them women, men working in publishing can expect to be paid considerably more than their female counterparts.

More than 30 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed its message seems largely to have been lost on Britain's publishers.

The survey was carried out by Suzanne Collier for Bookcareers.com, who analysed 800 questionnaires completed by staff in the book trade.

Lowest rungs

The average salary in publishing, it seems, is just under 23,000 a year.

Starting salaries for those on the lowest rungs of the publishing ladder - marketing or editorial assistants, for instance, in their first jobs and aged between 19 and 23 years old - average out at just over 14,000.

Renee Zellweger
Bridget Jones has further popularised the world of publishing
Ms Collier found one person who was paid only 9,000 - "less than my cleaning lady earns," in the words of the boss of one small educational publisher.

It seems astonishing that any graduate straight out of university would want to go into publishing in the first place when it pays so badly.

Even teachers get more: 17,000 a year outside London, 20,000 in the capital (which is where the majority of publishing jobs are to be found).

Widening

It also seems astonishing that the thousands of Bridget Joneses in publishing don't make more of a fuss over how little they are paid compared to men.


So far there is no real evidence that low salaries and high staff turnover are damaging the industry

Three-quarters of the industry is female. Yet Collier's survey turned up average salaries of more than 26,000 for men, and slightly more than 22,000 for women.

What's more the gap seems to be widening: men achieved an average salary increase of nine per cent, women seven per cent.

All the male editorial directors who completed Collier's questionnaire were earning 45,000 or more. More than eight out of 10 of their female counterparts were earning less than 43,000.

Suzanne Collier herself believes the industry is storing up trouble for the future.

Poor rates of pay mean a high turnover of staff (Bridget Jones eventually got so fed up she went to work in television).

'Low salaries'

She believes publishers are dangerously complacent about a situation in which many of their brightest and best stay only a short while before seeking out better paid employment elsewhere - particularly if, like those in marketing, their skills are readily transferable to other industries.


We pay as much as we can afford

Independent publisher Philip Kogan
Although the business is dominated by a few large companies like Penguin, Random House and HarperCollins (subsidiaries of international media groups like Pearson, Bertelsmann and News Corp respectively), most publishing companies are still small.

"Most publishers pay low salaries because most publishers don't make a lot of money," says John Whitley of the Publishing Training Centre.

People who want to work in publishing do so with their eyes open, he says. They know they're unlikely to be well-paid.

'Masters degrees'

When his own organisation advertised for a marketing assistant at a salary of just 13,000 (expecting applications from bright school-leavers) he was staggered by the quality of the CVs he received.

"There were people fluent in several languages, there were people with masters degrees. It's still the case that publishing is an area in which a lot of people, particularly women, want to work."

"We pay as much as we can afford," says Philip Kogan of the independent publisher Kogan Page, which has around 65 staff.

In practice that means starting salaries for first-timers of about 12,000.

"During the last recession people were coming to us and working for nothing," he says.

He acknowledges that staff turnover is high, but says there is a trade off between pay and experience.

Even people with good Oxbridge degrees are little use to begin with and need training up, he says.

Staff turnover

The alternative - one he is considering - is to avoid recruiting straight from university entirely, and opt for those with two or three years experience, even if it means paying them more.

The truth, as John Whitley says, is that so long as the demand from people looking for jobs exceeds supply, pay levels are unlikely to increase.

Rightly or wrongly publishers will go on exploiting that - and so far there is no real evidence that low salaries and high staff turnover are damaging the industry, or reducing the quality of the books it publishes.

And if all else fails, publishing's exploited masses can follow Bridget Jones's lead and look for a job in television - though it's worth pointing out that one industry notorious not just for underpaying new recruits but getting them to work for absolutely nothing is television.

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