Have you ever wondered, “how much do book, magazine, and newspaper editors earn?” I always assumed that the answer was “enough to live comfortably” and, guess what, I was right! Earlier today Galley Cat published the results of an unscientific, but intriguing investigation into the salaries of editors at top publishing companies: “Using the anonymous job site Glassdoor, we found that the average salary for an editor in the New York area is $53,500 a year. This includes book editors and magazine and newspaper editors.”

Cool! But all this talk about money and publishing made me wonder, “What about the people at the bottom? What about the interns? How much do they make?” There’s good news and bad news here. From limited research, it appears that a number of publishing houses, including the Penguin Group, MacMillan Group, and Verso do the right, lawful thing and pay their interns. That’s the good news. However, when it comes to journalism, I’m inclined to agree with Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, who argued in a recent appearance on the Bat Segundo Show that:

“The publishing industry is one of the worst. It’s one of the worst offenders. …. All kinds of people who see themselves as championing workers’ rights or who see themselves as liberal completely ignore this issue. Or they figure that all these interns are rich kids. So they can afford it. “It’s not a big deal if we don’t pay them.” Well, that’s an interesting statement. But, first of all, I would uphold the right of everybody to be paid for labor no matter what their background. And so I think to introduce a double standard is actually a dangerous idea. Even though people informally air that kind of opinion all the time. But, second of all, if indeed they are kids born with a silver spoon in their mouth, the question is: Why are those your interns? Well, because they’re the only ones who can afford to work for the non-pay that you’re offering. There probably are some smaller organizations getting off the ground that would have trouble surviving if they didn’t have interns. But in most cases, whether it’s a small liberal magazine in Brooklyn or a startup in the Midwest, whatever it is, they use interns to extend what they can do. To build up their capacity. To try and do more. They do it because they can. Because it’s there. And they haven’t questioned it. And one thing I’m hoping to do with the book is to politicize it such that anybody who wants to get up on soapboxes and say, “This or that is liberal. We should fight for workers. Protect workers and social mobility and social justice and talk about these kind of things,” will also look at their own workplace practices. But this is a much larger issue of people practicing what they preach, right?”

I know I’ve been effectively shutout from a number of magazine internships because I can’t afford an unpaid internship or am not eligible for a “credit only” position. With this in mind, I decided to compare the salaries of editors and “credit-only” or unpaid interns.

Here is a graph comparing editors’ salaries to credit-only/unpaid interns’ salaries:

And here is a graph breaking down the “rewards” of the unpaid internship:

Unpaid internships are unethical, discriminatory, and more often than not, illegal.


 

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  • Unpaid Intern

    My boss just read this. He told me to find out how you made that “sweet” pie chart. Thanks.

  • Dwalker

    Totally agree with your conclusion. In case it makes you feel any better, I know some book and magazine editors (at, say, nonprofit presses in Ohio) who aren’t paid either….

    • David Duhr

      There are even plenty of them who are not only unpaid but support their press/publications by paying dues.

  • Meagan

    Amazing. But there’s one thing that doesn’t correspond to my experience as an unpaid publishing intern: I actually networked a decent amount, i.e. made a lot of friends with similar interests, some of whom have already helped me along the way (my internship actually turned into a job, which I know is super lucky and super rare). 

    Of course, that just makes the whole thing worse! Because if you can’t afford an unpaid internship, then you won’t get those networking opportunities and publishing, let’s be honest, is sort of a social club. To top it all off, networking means drinks, so even if you can afford an unpaid internship you might not be able to afford going for drinks several times a week, in which case you’ll be missing out. So to my mind it’s not that unpaid internships are totally pointless. Instead the thing that’s so messed up about them is that the people get the most out of them are those who can afford it.Thanks for the great post, Alex!

  • I agree unpaid internships are exploitative and unethical but $53,500 (before taxes mind you) in NYC is jack shit. After taxes, and other deductions, they’re probably taking home $3,000 a month. I’m not saying that it’s a poverty line wage, but you probably have roommates, a partner, or live in Queens with that kind of salary.

    • I totally agree. The comparison between editors and interns overlooks (and poo poos) the fact that it takes a lot more than whatever $53,500 becomes after taxes to live comfortably in this city as an adult. And I should have clarified that whatever $53,500 becomes after taxes would be enough for me, a 23 year old unmarried man with no children who enjoys eating beans and rice several times a week, to live comfortably, and is perhaps not enough for, well, anybody else to live comfortably. (I was really just using the GalleyCat thing as an excuse to talk about the subject of interns, which I’ve been a bit obsessed with since I read Intern Nation last month, and regret not digging into that figure a bit more).

      • Max Rivlin-Nadler

        Go Queens!

    • Wrong. 53k before taxes is enough for anyone to live anywhere in the United States comfortably.

      • We have different definitions of comfortable if you think 36K, after taxes, makes life in NYC comfortable. Elsewhere, absolutely, but in a major city, please.

  • Three-time unpaid intern

    NPR doesn’t pay their interns (about 90 of them) during the fall and spring semesters.

  • Too true. It used to be that publishing internships did often lead to being hired for an entry level position. But is there even such thing as an entry level position nowadays? All the ones I see advertised as “entry level” require 3-5 years experience. 

  • If there was any justice in this world (and there is not), this article would be widely distributed and shame these organizations into halting this practice.  Instead of rich kid (no offense to them) interns working for free why not pay a little more and hire day laborers from Central America?

  • Emily

    This article makes absolutely no sense. Internships are not for earning money, at least not in publishing. This is the case with a lot of careers, be able to afford an internship or go look for something which pays. The editors are hardly making poverty line wages themselves. 53000 in year hardly pays the rent of a good NYC apartment for a month. You won’t even be able to afford a year of school for your kid with that money. In such a city, it is obvious interns would be unpaid

  • I’m going to open up the comments again just because I’m looking at a fellowship (i.e. a year-long on 1500 a month) after a string of internships wondering how is it that I’m still looking at positions that barely pay despite this “experience” that internships offer, or purports to offer, potential interns. Post-internship with large publisher, (which, for the record did pay a minimum wage, and I got by by working at a bar on the weekends) I started interviewing for “entry-level” positions, the last of which opened with “you’re a promising candidate, but you should know that we don’t typically look at hiring unless you’ve had a year of publishing experience” and I would quickly learn that despite the many reader’s reports I wrote and tweets I wrote and blog posts I wrote… that I still lacked some basics that publishers like to see (writing flap copy, line editing, etc.). I think that, while it’s not viable for every publisher to fairly compensate their interns, publishers should be seriously reevaluating their programs in terms of how useful they actually are for the interns. There’s something wrong if unpaid or minimally-paid interns are leaving internships without the skills they need to get an entry-level position.