HarperCollins Union Strike Continues

January 17, 2023 News & Notes 2

Graphic: This reader supports the HarperCollins Union. #HCPOnStrike

You may have heard that HarperCollins union workers are on strike.

The HC union has been on strike since mid-November. They are seeking better pay, more workplace diversity, and better job security. But why does this matter to you as a reader?

Worker’s salaries. Most publishing jobs are in New York, which has some of the highest average rents in the country. (Average rent for an apartment in Manhattan is $5000 per month.) Yet most entry-level and even mid-level jobs in the industry pay less than comparable jobs in other industries. The low salaries make it difficult for those without additional resources to make ends meet.

And who is most likely to have those resources and the willingness to accept low wages in order to do a job they love? Mostly, it has been young, upper-middle- and upper-class white women. Add to that tendency the publishing world’s reliance on interns (who need even more family support), and you end up with a lack of diversity throughout the major publishers.

Workforce diversity matters because when many of the people choosing and overseeing the publication and marketing of books are from the same group, they are less likely to choose books by and about people outside those groups. Publishers have made significant strides in buying and promoting more diverse books in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go.

Right now, HarperCollins continues to publish books without the 200+ employees who are on strike. They’re filling in with temps and interns, and asking more of their nonunion workers. The editors who aren’t on strike are each in charge of more books, which means that none of their books are getting as much time and attention… and that can and will impact the quality of the finished book, from how it looks to the actual writing. I suspect that some debut and midlist authors aren’t getting much support in the way of publicity and marketing, either… which can and probably will impact their sales, and potentially their careers.

Despite the risk of retaliation, some authors and agents are supporting the union by speaking out, donating to the strike fund, and in some cases, by refusing to submit books for consideration during the strike.

The irony is that the union really isn’t asking for that much, relative to what top executives, top-selling authors, and celebrities receive. Publishing CEOs earn salaries near or above the $1 million mark, and that’s not counting additional millions in stock awards per year. HarperCollins earnings for 2021 were $303 million (after operating expenses, but before taxes); their actual yearly revenue is around $2.19 billion. The union, which is seeking a rise in starting salary from $45,000 to $50,000, believes it’s “proposal right now would only increase payroll by less than a million dollars in the first year,” according to Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor. (Vulture) That’s less than the advance some top-selling authors and prominent figures receive; Jared Kushner was offered a “seven-figure” advance, while the Obamas first book deal garnered a $65 million advance for one book each. Stephen King regularly receives advances in the millions.

Meanwhile, editors and staffers are working second jobs to try to make ends meet. They also report that they are frequently asked to put in extra hours without compensation. Turnover is high in the industry as a whole. These factors are already costing the publishing companies. Exhausted workers can’t give their best, and training new employees takes time… not to mention the loss of experience and institutional when a 5- or 10- or 15-year employee leaves. Paying better salaries and offering more job security would result in higher retention of experienced employees, as well as attracting a more diverse workforce to begin with.

For more information/views on the strike, scroll down to the links under Sources at the bottom of the page.

Help Out the HarperCollins Union

If you would like to support the HarperCollins union, here are some things the union suggests you can do as a reader and reviewer:

Don’t boycott HC titles at this time. Buy the books you want to read, and read them. But…

Don’t reviews or otherwise promote HC titles during the strike. I know some bloggers and review sites are supporting this request, notably Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Personally, I am struggling with the ethical questions involved. On the one hand, I want to support the union workers. On the other hand, withholding reviews hurts not only HarperCollins, but also the authors whose livelihood depends on publication and sales. I am still trying to figure out how to balance this issue, but for now, I will refrain from reviewing HarperCollins titles. (If you want a list of all the publishers and imprints in the HC group, you can find one here; it includes Harper, William Morrow, Avon, Harlequin, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, and all their imprints, as well as a number of smaller publishers/imprints.)

Donate to the strike solidarity (hardship) fund, which helps pay striking workers during the strike.

Buy books through the HC Union Strike Solidarity bookstore at Bookshop.org. The union gets 10% of the sale price, and you’re helping the author(s.)

Read and sign the HarperCollins Strike Solidarity Open Letter, and check out the many authors, artists, publishing workers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers who have done the same. (The link goes to the HC union’s LinkTree, where there is one link to read the letter, and another to sign it.)

Follow the HC union on social media, and support them on your own socials.

If you are in New York, attend the rally on Jan. 18, 2023, outside HC headquarters.

Sources and other links:

Rainbow Reading Stands With the HarperCollins Union Strike (Rainbow Reading, on Autostraddle) Yashwina does a really good job of explaining what the union wants and why this matters to LGBTQIA+ readers, and to all readers and the publishing industry as a whole.

How To Support the HarperCollins Union During Their Strike (Book Riot)

How Much Top Publishing Executives Earn (Publishers Weekly)

Solidarity with the Harper Collins Union Strike (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Passion Doesn’t Pay the Bills (Vulture)

HarperCollins staffers are striking. Here’s why that matters to readers. (Washington Post)

HarperCollins Sales Statistics (WordsRated)

2 Responses to “HarperCollins Union Strike Continues”

  1. Nicole @ BookWyrmKnits

    Thank you for sharing this well-thought-out update on the strike and why it matters! I have been trying to figure out how to balance my posts with regard to the strike as well. I think I’ve determined that for any HarperCollins books I want to write full reviews of I will write the review, but save it as a draft until after the strike is over, and I’ll publish it then. My bigger issue is what to do about the small couple-line reviews that I include with my monthly wrap-ups. I haven’t figured out how to handle that part yet.
    Nicole @ BookWyrmKnits recently posted…WIP Wednesday for 18 January 2023My Profile