New York has long been the hub of the publishing industry. Even in the wake of COVID-19 and the realization that much of what we do can be done remotely, that NY-centric state of mind does not seem to be changing. I am months away from graduating with a master’s degree in Book Publishing from Portland State University, so I’ve been doing my research into the publishing job market and most roads lead to New York.
While conducting my research, I came across dozens of articles with titles like, “Can You Afford to Live in New York City?” or, “Cost of Living in New York City”. Never mind the crowds of people, the crime, or the cat-sized rat problem: what it comes down to for most people when considering relocation to New York is the cost. It is highly competitive in terms of the housing and job markets, with one-third of renters spending 50 percent of their income on housing, and huge markups on just about everything else. The articles say it’s possible to survive if you live frugally, choose a less desirable neighborhood, and live with roommates. And make at least $40k per year after taxes: not easy to do when New Yorkers pay some of the highest taxes in the country which include federal, state, and city income taxes. Another fun fact, the average landlord makes you prove you make forty times the monthly rent. Want to guess what the average entry-level publishing job pays? Not enough. Think of how many talented, qualified people with diverse lived experiences this keeps out of the industry, simply because they do not have the economic or social capital to enter it.
Those NY-averse publishing professionals among us are no strangers to the grind. We are willing to hustle and sacrifice to do the work we love. But how much sacrifice is enough? Personally, aside from becoming impoverished, I’d also have to sacrifice my two dogs. Both my eighty-pound babies have special needs and do not belong in a tiny NY apartment. And one is a rescue who, much like his mom, does not take kindly to strangers. I’d have to surrender both to a shelter where, as adult dogs with emotional and fear-aggression issues, they would likely be put down. If you’re thinking I should have planned better, consider this: circumstances change. I rescued my babies while living in sunny San Diego, long before the pandemic, when I had a husband and a house with a huge backyard. Now it’s just me and the dogs—and boy do we miss that yard.
There is simply no good reason why workers within any industry should be forced to move to a centralized location to do a job that could be done from literally anywhere else. And make no mistake, it can. Publishing was affected by COVID-19 just like every other industry, but while others struggled and shuttered, publishing thrived. While print sales were up, deals were being made, people were meeting virtually, and stuff was getting done, New York experienced a mass exodus. People realized that they didn’t have to be physically in the office (or in NY) to do their jobs.
Sure, remote work has its challenges, but the benefits for the health of the industry far outweigh them. Yet, what I’m proposing is for major publishers to open more offices outside of New York—namely on the West Coast. Doing so would have a similar effect as offering more remote positions while potentially mitigating the demand for remote work. The Big Five clearly value the work being done out here, in places like Portland, and scoop up our indies once they experience a modicum of success. Instead, why not deliberately set up shop, hire local, and watch your company flourish because your workers can afford to live and live where they want to instead of where they must?
New York offers a certain prestige, to be sure. But staying centralized in New York is not exclusivity—it’s exclusion. Get it together, publishing: you’re an industry, not a nightclub. If you don’t disperse for the diversity and well-being of your workers, for pup’s sake, do it for the dogs!