Navigating Publishing: A Stable Landscape of Continuous Change

February 22, 2024

In this episode of The Professionals Podcast, we delve deep into the multifaceted world of publishing careers. Join us as we uncover invaluable insights from Mr. John Warren, Program Director and Associate Professor of the Publishing program at the College of Professional Studies.

Navigating Publishing Careers in a Stable Landscape of Continuous Change

The publishing landscape has many contractions: a stable, mature industry, publishing has traditions and practices forged over decades and even centuries, yet publishing is also ever-evolving. Like the two faces of Janus, publishing faces its past while looking toward its vibrant future. From the transition from print to electronic journals and eBooks, significant growth in audiobooks and podcasting, and the integration of AI technologies, the industry continues to undergo a metamorphosis. Over my three decades in the field, I've witnessed and written about these shifts, and strive to continuously adapt our approach to reflect trends and best practices in our curriculum.

When eBooks burst onto the scene in the late '90s and early 2000s, pundits speculated about print’s ultimate demise. The enduring pleasure of holding a well-made book, however, ensures that printed books remain the dominant format in book publishing, while eBooks hover around 20% of the market (with large variations dependent on the genre, audience, publisher, and market). Electronic journals dominate scholarly publishing. Audiobooks have grown by double digits for a dozen straight years, due to the proliferation of smartphones, platforms such as Audible and Spotify, and efforts by public libraries to make audiobooks more accessible.

Often overlooked by entrants considering careers in publishing are the fields of scholarly, academic, education, and professional publishing, including careers in scholarly journals, which provide numerous opportunities. Prominent associations and societies in STEM as well as the humanities and social sciences have significant publishing operations, which often serve as significant drivers of the association, and provide numerous, diverse, and rewarding careers. Our students also find opportunities with university presses and for-profit scholarly publishers. Other students find opportunities in trade (general interest) publishing with the Big 5 or with independent presses. A significant and increasing number of students launch their own ventures or find opportunities in publishing startups, services, audio, and more, or find jobs that involve publishing activities at organizations that are not predominantly publishers, but where publishing is nevertheless essential to their business.

Our curriculum has always included a commitment to developing ethical leadership in publishing, a theme that has become increasingly pertinent in today's landscape. Our annual GW Ethics in Publishing Conference, in its 14th year in 2024,, encompasses a broader range of topics, including diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, the ethical implications of emerging technologies like AI, workplace equity, multilingual publishing, and more.

AI represents the most transformative change in publishing since the advent of computers and desktop publishing in the 1980s and 1990s. The integration of AI into publishing workflows presents both opportunities and challenges. While it has the potential to streamline processes and enhance efficiency, AI raises numerous concerns around authorship, research integrity, disinformation, job displacement and many other ethical considerations. As publishers, and educators, we must navigate these complexities while equipping students with the skills to harness AI responsibly.

My own experience with AI is cautious and optimistic. We must ensure that a human is in the loop at the beginning and at the end. We must ensure that AI makes our jobs more efficient, creative, and strategic, and not replace our jobs. For my presentation at a publishing conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, I utilized the AI-powered translation tools of DeepL to translate my presentation and tools I’d created to share in Excel. I subsequently verified and refined the translation before presenting in Spanish; still, using AI saved valuable time without compromising quality.

Maintaining a stance of cautious optimism, we can recognize the potential of new technologies to make publishing more agile and efficient, while remaining mindful of their ethical implications, including the very real dangers of bias and disinformation. As our graduates become leaders in the field and shape the future of publishing, they will be embracing innovation mindfully, upholding the principles of integrity and inclusivity that underpin our industry.