It's 2010 — er, 2011! Where's your career heading?
In addition to the stagnant economy, the publishing industry is taking its own hits. Here are some ideas for keeping your career — and job prospects — on track.
Originally published in 2010 and updated for 2011.
My 5-minute rule played out today.
My students can contact me with questions about anything related to our profession or the class material, and every day many students take me up on my offer of free 5-minute consultations.
Today, a student from long ago (LONG long ago, from when I taught at George Washington University's publication program in the 1990s) tracked me down and asked, "Would you consider giving your old student some advice on what you see in the industry right now and how to get back in the swim?"
What a great question and what good timing, too.
Here's a condensed version of what I wrote back to my former student.
Let’s see…about the industry…
It's not just you that's in transition. The entire publishing industry is in transition, too.
The number of printed pages (or impressions) are way down and continue to drop each year. Large print shops have been merging over the past few years hoping to stay afloat, but that didn’t help some of them and a few really big guys have gone belly up.
However, small shops and quick printers seem to be doing better, as well as specialty printers.
Sales of conventional offset and web presses have now been surpassed by sales of digital presses, including the Xerox-on-steroids toner-based "presses."
This tells us a lot about HOW our information is getting to our audiences:
- Short-run quick-turnaround jobs are starting to dominate the print market.
- The Web (and all its electronic variations, such as Twitter and Facebook) are now our dominant method of getting information.
In my own studio, the traditional newsletters and magazines that were my bread-and-butter clients 20 years ago have migrated to electronic or web-based versions. Many were discontinued altogether.
Employment future: the decade ahead In jobs
National Public Radio (NPR) just published this info about employment opportunities in the next 10 years, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [Employment Future: The Decade Ahead In Jobs, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121875404].
Visit the NPR website and view this live interactive chart.
Here are some interesting statistics that affect our profession.
- Manufacturing | Printing (4th small dot from left), -18% change
- Information | Publishing (1st dot), -19.3% change
- Information | Telecommunications (2nd dot), -8.8% change
- Professional and Business Services | Advertising & PR, +8% change
- Professional and Business Services | Computer Systems Design & Related Services (which includes Internet stuff), +45.3% change
- Government and Advocacy | Entire category, +9.2% change
The bottom line: If you're an editor or designer who is still only doing print-based publishing and marketing, this government forecast predicts you'll have a hard time keeping employed in the new decade and beyond.
Publishing and printing will see nearly 20% drops in employment, while computer services (which includes the Internet) will increase 45%.
What smart publishers are doing
A savvy publisher or communications specialist should be looking at ALL forms of publishing, not just print. The buzzword is cross-media publishing:
- Content is created (written, edited, illustrated) and stored in a content management system (CMS, a fancy name for a huge database).
- Content is pulled from the CMS and dropped into InDesign for the printed piece.
- Content is pulled from the CMS and published to a website.
- Content is pulled from the CMS and published to smart phones, PDAs, Twitter, RSS feeds, and whatever else gets developed in the next few years.
So any editor, writer, or designer who wants a job in publishing must have an understanding of the today’s technologies.
Are you a designer or writer?
You first have to decide if you want to work on the design side of the process or on the editorial side.
Very few people can do both. There are some editors/writers who can muddle through InDesign to create a brochure or newsletter, but their work would never win a design award. (OK, I'm sure there are a couple out there who have won awards, but they are exceptions to the left-right brain theory of creativity and visual design.)
The employment market in both areas is very tight and will probably continue to be tight for the foreseeable future.
This is partly due to the lousy economy, and partly to confusion about communication technologies — in other words, publishers and marketers are still trying to figure out all this new technology, how to reach their audiences better, and how not to go broke trying to figure out what works.
Here are some things you can do to refresh your job skills and keep your career on target.
If you're a writer or editor, consider these courses
- Editing refresher course to polish a rusty editorial eye.
- How to edit websites. Take a basic class in how to build a CSS-based website. You don’t have to become a web developer or programmer/designer. You just need to know enough about how a website is constructed so that you can work as part of a web team and not do any damage to your colleagues’ work when you edit it!
- How to work with content management systems. Government agencies, large organizations, and publishers are all deploying CMSs in order to streamline their operations and improve their cross-media blitz.
- Section 508 accessibility. You need to know what it is and how to build accessibility into your MS Word files, PDFs, and websites. 508 accessibility isn't just for the government anymore, but is now applying to all forms of communication by everyone via all media.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Because you're the wordsmith and content matter expert (SME), you're the best-qualified team member to write the descriptions, keywords, Alt-attribute tags, and summaries that make information findable and usable throughout the bazillion technologies we work with.
- XML. This tagging/mark-up language is the core of cross-media publishing, and also plays a significant role in Section 508 accessibility, too. You don't have to become an XML programmer. Instead, take a 2-day course to understand what XML is, how it works, and how you can begin to use it for publishing. You also could become part of your organization's XML team that develops the schema or DTD for their XML workflow. (Hint: you're a wordsmith and SME, so they need you to balance the team's expertise.) For XML classes, see my good colleagues at Mulberry Technologies in Bethesda, MD. They're the best in the industry.
- InDesign, Photoshop, and Acrobat. The more tools you know how to use, the more valuable you'll be to an employer or client. You do not need to become an award-winning designer. But it's helpful to understand how these programs work so that you can more easily mesh with your team mates. And being able to edit an InDesign document — and not do damage to the layout — is a very desirable skill, as well as dropping text into a premade InDesign template, too.
- How to use social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-In are here to stay, and we'll see even more similar technologies in the next few years. Take a short class in social media and start your own personal and professional pages to learn first-hand how they operate.
- Smart phone apps. You hear it everywhere: "there's an app for that." The Apple iPhone is the largest selling phone in the world. Verizon's new Droid is selling like hotcakes. And Google just announced today its own smartphone, Nexus One. Take a short course in how to create smartphone apps so that you can understand the role they'll play in publishing, PR, and marketing. You don't have to become an app programmer, but you do want to know how an app is developed so that you can dream up and manage that killer app for your organization.
- E-Publishing. Amazon's Kindle was Amazon's largest selling item during the 2009 holiday season. It's the best-selling item on the entire website. That's one more nail in the printed book's coffin. Learn how to develop publications for Kindle and other ebook readers. And also learn the ropes about e-publishing, POD (print on demand), and self-publishing, such as Lulu and Lightningsource.
If you're a designer, consider these courses
Oh gosh, you should consider everything I stated above for editors!
But you should focus more on developing solid skills in web design and smartphone app development, and not just go for an overview understanding.
The only designers and studios I see today that are making it are those that can handle both print and electronic design. And in the future, you'll need to understand XML in order to work with a client's CMS and hand-off your work to web programmers.
To survive, you'll have ditch the print prima donna 'tude because print no longer drives the publishing and marketing industries.
So focus on these areas:
- Website development. CSS-based and Section 5o8 accessible web design. No more table-based layout. No more hand formatting.
- Advanced InDesign. Master the use of styles (paragraph, character, object, master pages) and stop manually formatting everything. Learn how to make press-quality PDFs AND 508-accessible web-quality PDFs, too. Learn how to extract the content for use with XML, CMSs, and websites. Take a look at my 508 + InDesign + PDF class for an example of what you need to know.
- Become an ACE. To set yourself above the pack of hungry designers, become an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) in one or more of our core software programs.
- Become an Illustrator and Photoshop "artiste." Learn how to do more creative work with graphics software. Take some digital art and illustration classes at your local community college to get your creative juices flowing again. When people like what they see, they end up hiring the artist who created it. Funny thing about that, eh?
- Image editing and color correction. Every high school graduate today can do a mash-up in Photoshop and upload it to a Facebook page. But that "talent" isn't going to get anyone a real job. Learn how to do real image editing the right way, including color correction for press and web. If you haven't had a specific course in Photoshop's recent tools for image editing (curves, L*A*B, RAW, etc.), then update your skills and qualifications. If you can take the boss's photo and make him/her look good, your job is golden! <g>
- Social media development. Yep, you have to learn how to build Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In pages. Start now.
- Smartphone apps. You're the perfect creative genius to develop that killer app for your organization. Go for it. (And now you have the perfect excuse to buy that new iPhone, Droid, or Nexus One smartphone...it's a development testing tool and business expense. You're so lucky!)
Our profession isn't dying. Instead it's changing from one technology to another, from print to electronic.
It's time to get your career on a solid track for the next decade of new media outlets.
But take things one step at a time. Just one or two courses every year can bring your skills up to date now and give you an excellent foundation for the future.
See what's available at your local community college or through your local professional associations. And check out my courses at PubCom (I know ... I'm so shameless!).
These are my thoughts about publishing and marketing careers in the coming decade.
Any from you? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.
— Bevi Chagnon
January 5, 2010, revised January 14, 2011