“Best Publishing Companies to Work For” is the headline of this article doing the rounds at the moment, and possibly the major publishers listed are patting themselves on the back right now. A closer look at the data puts a much less positive spin on the figures for the multi-nationals, but that’s not the whole story. It’s the missing portion that’s most misleading.

The initial surveys appear to be self-selecting, that is, employees go onto the site glassdoor.com and rate their companies on a scale of 1 to 5. If you are wasting time on this site, chances are that you are already bored or dissatisfied in your job. Leaving response bias aside, let’s take a closer look at the publishing companies rated.

The collation of publishing industry responses is limited to those companies with at least 10 responses. Assuming people don’t respond twice while at the same company, and assuming an extremely generous response rate of 10%, that means only companies with 100 or more employees are included in the survey.

Apart from the 14 multi-nationals listed, very few publishers employ that many people. The industry is full of small publishers (fewer than 10 employees) and medium publishers (30-60 employees). Also, and possibly increasingly so, many editorial and production functions are undertaken by freelancers, who work for a number of different publishing companies. This data automatically excludes significant portions of the publishing industry.

It would be extremely interesting to find out the level of satisfaction among these smaller publishers – the pay (low) and the hours (long) would be the same as among the large publishers, but smaller companies are often where staff gain a wider range of hands-on experience and are also where “passion” comes to the forefront.

For the responses that are included, the ratings are not much to get excited about. Here is the ranking system (which is taken across a range of areas) as expressed on the glassdoor.com website:

5: very satisfied

4: satisfied

3: neutral (“OK”)

2: dissatisfied

1: very dissatisfied

The average rating for all the publishing companies is 3.08 – just above “OK” but well below “satisfied”. The top two publishing companies on this list, Random House and Wiley, have ratings of 3.9 and 3.6 respectively – still falling short of merely “satisfied”. The next 8 companies have ratings from 3.3 down to 3.0 – from “OK” to a bit better than “OK”. The four companies after that rate from 2.8 to 2.2, that is, between “dissatisfied” to almost “OK”. Are these really the top 14 publishing companies to work for? Wow, I wouldn’t be rushing to join this industry, especially when even the positive comments cite the low pay.

Which brings me back to my point – this survey only tells you what it’s like to work for a multi-national publisher (and probably only in the US). Nearly all of the comments could apply to any large corporation; apart from digital disruption there is little that is specific to the publishing industry. It doesn’t tell you anything about what it’s like to work in the publishing industry (which comprises more than just publishers) and in particular for one of the many small to medium publishers, or as a freelancer hired by publishers of all sizes.

© 2012 Linda Kythe Nix. All rights reserved.