When the music stops

<p>Perhaps the least surprising news of the week is that publishing is now experiencing a recruitment slow-down. Given that we have just experienced a period of financial turmoil not seen since October 1929, anything else would be remarkable.</p>
<p>Although publishing has been virtually untouched by the wider slowdown so far, the mood is clearly brittle- and confidence is becoming a rarer commodity.</p>
<p>At the bottom level of the recruitment market hard-pressed graduates are having to struggle harder than ever to get a foot in the door. HarperCollins has frozen recruitment at least until the beginning of next year, while a cursory glance at Random House's website reveals only two jobs on offer at the publishing giant.</p>
<p>Clearly managements are reluctant to add to their cost bases at such an uncertain time unless they really need to&mdash;but are there other trends now afoot?&nbsp; One is the spread of the &quot;internship&quot;, where book publishing is fast catching up with established practice in the advertising and television industries. Here it is common for youngsters to spend months on end working for pocket money. So long as there are people willing to work under these conditions, and there are some permanent jobs on offer, the system pays dividends for both sides. In 2007, Random House employed 150 interns, of whom 18 eventually found jobs with the publisher.</p>
<p>Nevertheless, it would be deplorable if publishers used interns to replace permanent staff in a systematic way, and probably also counter-productive as a diminishing skills base is no way to enter a slow-down. Starting salaries in industries like publishing have always been low, but over the past five of six years they seem to have become rooted at the &pound;16k&ndash;&pound;18k level, despite huge rises in the cost of living. The danger is that entrants are drawn from a narrow base of young women from affluent families.</p>
<p>At a mid and upper level, salaries have shown a marked uplift over the past decade, with &pound;60k department heads jobs of a decade ago now at the &pound;120k&ndash;&pound;150k level. This reflects a stronger American influence in publishing, and also the wider winner-takes-all culture that has gripped British culture over the past 25 years. In a slowdown, these highly-paid middle managers will be particularly vulnerable, partly because younger people are cheaper&mdash;and partly because they lack the digital skills those youngsters are so rich in.</p>