public perception

The MPub program at Simon Fraser University is the only publishing masters program in Canada. Although there are some courses in Canada and the US where one can study publishing during their undergraduate studies or receive a certificate in publishing, it is interesting that SFU is one of the only masters program on the continent. This is especially shocking when compared to the number of publishing programs in the UK and Europe, despite their smaller landmass and population. This raises the question of why there seems to be a lack of focus on the academic side of publishing in North America. In this essay, I will argue the issue lies, in part, with inconsistent perceptions of publishing, the vilification and feminization of the book industry in North America, the perceived decrease in reading and the publishing market in general by the public, and the wider disruption in the industry and education as a whole.

Firstly, I think it is important to focus on the North American public perception of the industry portrayed by the media in movies or portrayed by famous writers. A clear example is the film The Devil Wears Prada, in which the antagonist Miranda Priestly is editor-in-chief of Runway magazine. The character is a rich, harsh woman, who lives in New York and is out to destroy those around her in order to maintain her status. Although this film is more critical of the fashion industry and the ways that a woman must fight to succeed in the workplace, it also gives the publishing industry a problematic reputation. It doesn’t help that sources like Bustle write “If you work in magazine or newspaper publishing, chances are you’ve compared your work experience to The Devil Wears Prada at least once” (Jarema 2017). Writers also speak about editors, and while some of the discourse is positive, a lot has to do with their status as gatekeepers. George R.R. Martin’s Guest of Honor Speech for Coastcon 1979 focuses on this fact (even if it is done partially in jest). He states, “Editors crush fledgling writers in their nest with heavy rejection slips, and they clip the wings of more experienced writers and tell them in which direction to fly — usually the wrong direction — and generally bruise their egos often enough so writers grow bitter and disillusioned and turn to drink. You all know what alcoholics writers are, and it’s all because of editors” (Martin). Who would be interested in becoming an editor, with a reputation like that and no other understanding of the industry? 

Secondly, on top of this public perception, the vilification and feminization of the book industry play a big factor in publishing not being taken seriously as a subject. Publishing is also now a highly female profession, with a growing portion of the industry consisting of women (Roy 2018). Although this is fantastic for the purposes of equality, it gives the misogynistic system of Western society the chance to start defunding and infantilizing it. Most studies citing educated, middle age women as the prime readership of books. particularly for fiction, with men primarily reading books written by male authors about male characters with more non-fiction driven market base (Roy 2018). This could possibly lead to a gendered understanding of the industry, where, because women are doing the work it is seen as less difficult than other Masters programs in the sciences or business. To make matters even more unappealing for potential students, there is still a gender salary gap, with women still paid substantially less than men across all aspects of the industry (Milliot 2017).

For many years, people have claimed that reading is on a decline, and there is evidence proving that this may be the case. In his article Why We Don’t Read, Revisited, Caleb Crain discusses this decline. He states that “… between 2003 and 2016, the amount of time that the average American devoted to reading for personal interest on a daily basis dropped from 0.36 hours to 0.29 hour” and that, regardless of employment, ethnicity, and age, all time spent reading has been in a steady decline (Crain 2018). Crain states older generations are more likely to read, which also points to a possible lack of interest in the younger generations, where reader’s attention can be spread more easily across so many entertainment mediums. Appendix 1 also displays a decrease in overall book consumption, with 79% in 2011 steadily shifting to 74% in 2018, according to (“Book Consumption”). Crain argues this may also be due to the rise in other forms of entertainment, like the internet and television. However, he goes on to state, “The long march to secondary orality seems well underway. The nation, after all, is now led by a man who doesn’t read” (Crain 2018). This points to a darker side of American culture, where intellectualism is vilified as arrogance and smugness.

In his essay Publishing Education in the 21st Century and the Role of the University, John Maxwell argues the disparity of publishing programs are due to the disruption within the publishing landscape itself. He also argues post-secondary school is also in a disruptive phase and it is unclear where either institution in headed (Maxwell 2014). Maxwell writes of the rise of modern publishing education from 1950 to the 1990s, stating “This industry-driven approach, which emerged in a period of relative stability in the publishing industries, served until well until the beginning of the 21st century, when disruptive transitions began to affect publishing […] Today, markets are disrupted; distribution and sales channels are in flux; production is a quagmire of emerging and yet unstable technologies” (Maxwell 2014). These unstable technologies create jobs that have a shelf life, as the newest thing will make training in one program obsolete. In this manner, it might be argued that it is better for new employees to learn “on the job or […] in short in-service training workshops” (Maxwell 2014).  The perception these skills can be learned in such short time periods might contribute to the lack of publishing programs in North America. 

It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Maxwell argues obtaining a graduate degree in publishing will make one more adaptable and prepared for the changes that will inevitably come. Crain points out thedata he uses might be skewed in different ways which make the situation seem worse than it is, as there is not an entirely accurate way to track ebook/online reading through his data source.

It is interesting there are very few graduate-level course on publishing in North America and there are many factors which may pool into the situation. This essay is too short to explore the entirety of these issues. Lack of understanding of the true nature of the industry contributes to the scarcity of programs, as well as the feminization of the industry at large. It seems like the problems that affect the academic side of publishing closely resemble those that affect the industry as a whole. Perhaps as they are addressed within the industry the academic elements will improve as well. However, many times these changes begin at the academic level, as the “Girls in STEM” movement has for science and technology. Only time will tell. 


Appendix 1 

Statistics from Statista

Work Cited


“Book Consumption in the U.S. by Format 2018 | Statistic.” Statista. Accessed November 11, 2018.


Crain, Caleb. “Why We Don’t Read, Revisited.” The New Yorker. June 14, 2018. Accessed November 11, 2018. dont-read-revisited.

Jarema, Kerri. “Dream Of Working At A Magazine? Read These 9 Books.” Bustle. February 15, 2017. Accessed November 11, 2018. in-magazines-that-arent-the-devil-wears-prada-38328.

Martin, George R.R. “Editors: The Writer’s Natural Enemy.” George R.R. Martin Website. Accessed November 11, 2018. editors-the-writers-natural-enemy/.

Maxwell, John W. “Publishing Education in the 21st Century and the Role of the University.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 17, no. 2 (Spring 2014). Accessed November 10, 2018. doi:10.3998/3336451.0017.205.

Milliot, Jim. “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey 2017.” November 3, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2018. pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/75298-the-pw-publishing-industry- salary-survey-2017.html.

Roy, Nilanjana. “Publishing’s Gender Gap Is Still Selling Women Short.” Financial Times. September 21, 2018. Accessed November 11, 2018. d7d83f6e-bb56-11e8-94b2-17176fbf93f5.