Recently Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, recently tweeted a link to an interesting chart of U.S. publishing employment. Dating back to 1990, the information is compiled monthly and maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
The chart shows that publishing employment peaked in 2001 (at about 1.04 million) and has been on the decline pretty much ever since. The most recent estimate (March 2013) puts total employment in the U.S. publishing industry at 730,000, a drop of 30% over 12 years.
While that information is sobering, I tweeted back to Garrett that things might not be as bad as all that. Necessarily, the government data defines jobs as they have been done in the past. As industries evolve, the indicators lag, and jobs that are a new form of publishing – blogging, for example – are not captured.
The data in the chart explicitly excludes Internet employment. While many jobs related to the Internet are not publishing, a significant number likely are. The form and location of the work is changing, but we would likely recognize at least some of the uncounted jobs as publishing.
While the last decade may not have been as dark a time for publishing, the chart does tell me it is a difficult time for publishers. This is an argument I've made before. There's a difference.