A fair price

Last week something so unusual happened that it made the trade news headlines. A generous editor (Kay Peddle) donated a large sum of money to fund an internship. Even more surprising, a publisher also chipped in.

We at Profile have run an intern scheme for six years—it’s changed over that time (currently we have two interns working for 8 weeks each)—but one thing has stayed consistent: we pay. It’s not a huge amount (slightly above the minimum wage). The astonishing thing is that most of the rest of the industry doesn’t.

Internships should be paid. For three reasons:

It’s unfair not to. I can’t believe that in an industry full of left-liberal types it’s acceptable to have people work for weeks—even months—for no money. OK, publishing isn’t well paid—but to have to work for NOTHING? NOTHING?! Can anyone claim that’s fair? Even in a caffeine-fuelled environment like Profile we know people can’t live on coffee alone. Publishers aren’t charities, we are businesses. We should pay the people who work for us.

Secondly, it’s unprofessional not to pay. Someone who is being paid has some kind of stake in the company in which they work. If you were an author wouldn’t you feel more confident knowing that the junior person scanning your contract, or arranging your travel to the Edinburgh festival, was there on a legitimate, professional basis? When we hire an intern we encourage them to think about what areas interest them, and take time to find tasks that fit their interests, and offer advice in finding work. We ask a lot of our hard-working interns, and there's a commitment on both sides—money is part of that.

There’s a broader issue here too. Publishing’s a hard world to get into—all of us working in this industry know how lucky we are to be here. As we recruit the new generation, if we expect them all to do months of unpaid work before they even draw a wage that will lead to a sad narrowing of the gene pool. Where’s the talent, diversity and vitality for our industry going to come from if the only people who can afford to work here are those with wealthy parents (presumably living in London too) happy to support them?

Twenty years ago, women often started as secretaries (it’s how I started) and men as sales reps. Those days are gone, and internships have become the norm. There's a lot to be said for them, especially in an industry where most training is fairly ad hoc, and it's useful to have the flexibility. At Profile, like other companies, we benefit from a constant stream of young, enthusiastic, social media-savvy, keen readers who work incredibly hard while they are here; staff who aren't line managers gain useful experience delegating aspects of their work.

The interns benefit too. Most of ours have gone on to get good jobs in publishing or related fields: many come to Profile not knowing what area of publishing they might enjoy most, and gain useful experience across the business—even if they do also get an intimate relationship with our franking machine. I’m always chuffed when someone decides they’ve enjoyed helping me out so much that they want to go into publicity!

And we don’t expect them to work for nothing.

If we as a small independent can afford to pay our interns why can’t the big corporates?  I’m looking forward to hearing their response...