Of all the preferences for employment expressed by students when registering with the Alumni Placement Office, publishing, on the contrary, amount to no more than one or two a year at best, and the number of opportunities available in this field is always exceedingly limited.
Two factors operate primarily to make publishing a difficult field of work to enter. First, the business is, by comparison with other businesses, a small one. Second, it requires rather extraordinarily talents which even few college men possess.
When the average college student thinks of publishing he pictures himself doing editorial work for the trade publishers who bring out largely works of fiction, biography, travel and history. Seldom does he thinks of himself as an editor of textbooks, for here it is essential that he be an expert in one or more subjects requiring considerable graduate study and possibly teaching experience.
His objective is determined and fostered by the literary criticisms which he reads in the newspapers and magazines, by the instruction he receives in college in literary appreciation and fine writing. How extensive, then, it this field of trade publishing, and what are its employment possibilities?
18 Publishers Dominate Field
In 1936 there were 855 trade publishers in the Unites States, a sizeable number until we learn from the Publishers Weekly that in this same year only 240 publishers (including textbook firms) issued five or more books. Of these 240, we are told further, 50 companies did most of the trade business. And finally, it appears that 18 publishers produced almost half the year's trade book output--18 out of 855!
These reports present a startlingly clear picture of the concentration of the publishing business in a few firms. From them we may hardly infer that there are anything like 855 companies to be regarded as employment possibilities. It is also evident that any publishers producing less than five books a year must have a very small establishment with an editorial personnel of not more than two or three people at most. And more than 600 out of 855 publishing houses are in this category.
Among these "one man" firms there is likely to be great stability of personnel and whatever openings to occur will probably be filled in an intimate and personnel way and not announced through employment agencies or newspaper advertisements. Doubtless the financial soundness of many of these small companies would hardly recommend them anyway.
For practical purposes of employment we are, therefore, produced in 240 companies of which 50 do most of the trade business and of which 18 do nearly half. Perhaps, then, there are 75 to 100 publishing houses doing enough business to need additional employees from year to year.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that each of 100 firms will need one man this year. Here are 100 jobs sought after by college students from north, south, east, and west, opportunities for one man from each of 100 colleges. But let's be charitable and assume there are 500 jobs. Five lucky men out of 750 or 800 at Harvard. And how many applicants?
Each year there are between 100,000 and 150,000 students graduating from American colleges. Of these a third will go on to professional schools and among the other 75,000 let us say conservatively, at least one in ten will consider himself a candidate for the publishing business. Well, figure it out!.
Publishing Requires Discrimination
This discrepancy between supply and demand becomes considerably more reasonable when only the qualified applicants are concerned. Publishing requires rare combination of business acumen and the capacity for discriminating judgment on the excellence of writers and mere bibliophiles. Its standards are high and rigorous. It is in that group of occupation of which one might say, "If you can possibly picture yourself in some other field, don't try to enter here."