The book publishing industry has very few unions within its major companies. However, as the cost of living in major publishing hubs continues to rise and employees’ desires to diversify publishing grow, that may be changing.

In December 2022, HarperCollins workers went on a labor strike that lasted until February 21, 2023. According to the Publishers Weekly article, “HarperCollins Union Ratifies New Contract,” the publishing company’s union represents roughly 250 employees in each area of the company, including editorial, design, marketing, and more. The contract that concluded the three month long strike raises employees’ compensation (including starting salaries, overtime, annual increases, etc.), improves policies around paid time off, and allows for remote work to continue until July 1, 2023. The HarperCollins Union is the only union for any of the major book publishing companies in the United States.

Fighting for unionization is not specific to book publishing, but the HarperCollins strike brought heightened attention to the overwhelming lack of unions in publishing. To find the existing unions within the book industry, attention must be directed towards bookstores. For example, another Publishers Weekly article writes about how Strand Bookstore in New York City has a union; Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, has a union; Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle unionized in late 2020. There is also Greenlight Bookstore from New York City, Green Apple from San Francisco, and Skylight Books from Los Angeles, as stated in another article.

While these bookstores have made impressive progress in bringing unions to book selling, publishing houses are still behind, and this may be a direct cause for the slow movement into diversifying the industry as well. In the article “Why Organizing Workers in the Book Industry Is So Damn Hard,” the author brings up the “do it for the love of books” stigma, which has affected people in creative industries with poor paying jobs for much too long. The article gives many examples of this stigma, including a quote from Daunt Books, Waterstones, and Barnes&Noble CEO James Daunt that says, “To retain the best and most talented booksellers, we have to reward them, and we reward them as well as we can with pay, but we mainly reward them with a stimulating job.”

Along with this stigma, the article discusses the closely related idea that if you are not happy with the compensation for a job in publishing, the industry is competitive enough that someone who is happy with low wages can just take your place. This idea is partly what harms diversity in publishing. Diminishing the work that book people do by paying them low wages is not achievable, especially for minorities and diverse people who want to work in publishing. This ties in to the HarperCollins strike from 2022, which Constance Grady writes about in the article “What the hard-won HarperCollins union contract means for the future of books.” Grady’s article mentions how 76 percent of the publishing industry is white, and how that both affects the number of diverse stories that get published and the opportunities for diverse employees to succeed in the workplace. The number of people of color that leave publishing because they are not supported or respected is too high. While publishing has a lot of work to do to increase its diversity, raising workers’ wages is a great first step.

The small number of unions is not the only reason publishing continues to lack diversity; however, it contributes to the obstacles that people of color face when they try to work in the industry. The HarperCollins strike has shown that big publishers can accommodate their employees, and this is further proven by the bookstore unions that have existed for years. Overall, support for workers in the book industry, as well as other creative industries, is essential to continuing to create entertainment that people love.

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