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Where the Bucks Are

An ASBPE survey shows that editors’ incomes vary widely.
The best way to make sure you’re among the big earners:
Aim for a senior position with a large-circulation magazine.


EDITOR’S NOTE: From May to August of 1995, Ian Bruce, a graduate student at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, conducted a survey of business press editors. The goal of the survey was to help ASBPE plan future programs and activities. In this issue, Bruce reports on salary information garnered from that survey. The next issue reports on editors’ views on the journalism profession.


According to a recent ASBPE survey of business press editors, women are paid significantly less than men, even when they appear to be doing the same job. Results also indicate that the median salary range for senior-level editors (those with the title of editor-in-chief of managing editor) is $40,000 to $49,999, while the median salary range for all other editors is $30,000 to $39,999. All editors can earn significantly more than these median ranges, though, if they have greater professional experience, are older, or work for publications with larger circulations.

The survey asked 601 randomly selected editors, publishers, and freelance writers a wide range of questions about their professional lives. The names were drawn from ASBPE’s mailing list, which includes both ASBPE members and nonmembers. A total of 303 questionnaires were completed and returned, representing a response rate of 51 percent.

What Pays

Editors were asked to report their approximate salaries before taxes in 1994. Answers were grouped in $10,000 increments up to $80,000.

It was immediately apparent that editors’ incomes vary widely. The median salary for all editors is in the $40,000-to-$49,999 range, but only about 55 percent of editors’ salaries fall between $30,000 and $60,000. Because a relatively large number of the respondents (about 11 percent) were owners or publishers, the distribution of salaries is skewed toward the high end. Almost 14 percent reported earning more than $80,000 a year, after taxes. (For comparison, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average salary for editors and reporters is $31,000.)

An editor’s position on the masthead can explain much of this variation in income. For the purposes of data analysis, editors were divided into three groups:

  • Owners and Publishers,
  • Senior editors (those with the title editor-in-chief or managing editor), and
  • Other Editors (those with a job title of associate editor, contributing editor, editorial assistant, or staff writer).

The median salaries within each group were significantly different. The median for Owners/Publishers was over $80,000; for Senior Editors, in the $40,000-to-$49,999 range; and for Other Editors, $30,000 to $39,999. But even within each category, editors’ incomes differed widely. For example, although Senior Editors had a median income in the $40,000-to-$49,999 range, 11 percent reported earning more than $80,000 in 1994, while 9 percent reported that they earned less than $30,000.

Some of this variation in an individual’s income can be explained by the editor’s experience, age, and the size of the publication’s circulation—in that order. All editors, no matter what their position on the masthead, can expect to earn significantly more if they have more professional experience, or if they are older, or if they work for publications with larger circulations.

Surprisingly, when comparing the incomes of ASBPE members with those of former and nonmembers of the association, we found that members earn significantly more than the other two groups. This is probably because the ASBPE attracts more senior, experienced editors and shouldn’t be considered an intrinsic benefit of membership!

Sex Discrimination

Perhaps the most disturbing finding of the survey is that women are paid significantly less than men. Taken as a group, female editors have a median salary in the $40,000-to-$49,999 range, while male editors report a median salary in the $50,000-to-$59,999 range. Even when controlling for age, experience, or job title, women earn less. For example, within the category Senior Editor, we found that 15 percent of men reported earning more than $70,000, compared to only 7 percent of women.

Survey results also show evidence of another form of discrimination—a “glass ceiling” that prevents women from attaining senior management positions as readily as men. When we examined the proportion of women and men by job title, we found that women seem to be excluded from the position of owner or publisher: 13 percent of men reported such a title, compared to only 6.5 percent of women. Interestingly, a greater proportion of women than men attain the rank of managing editor or editor-in-chief, although women in these positions tend to be paid less than their male counterparts.

Judging just from this survey’s results, the business press might easily be described as a male-dominated profession. Men account for 60 percent of the respondents to the survey, they earn significantly more than women, and they are more likely to rise to the position of owner or publisher.

The Survey Respondents

A total of 30 percent of the respondents were current members of the ASBPE; 15 percent were former members and 55 percent nonmembers. More than 98 percent had a college education. The most popular major was journalism (34 percent), followed by English (23 percent). Approximately 11 percent reported they were owners or publishers, 58 percent held senior editorial positions, and the remaining 11 percent were freelancers or held noneditorial positions (e.g., art director).

Results of the survey have several limitations. They survey sample was derived from the ASBPE mailing list, which many or may not be representative of the general population of business press editors. The response rate of 51 percent leaves almost half the sample unaccounted for, and nonrespondents may differ in important respects to respondents. However, statistical analysis suggest that the survey is unbiased and representative of the general population of editors found on the ASBPE mailing list. It’s also worth noting that the survey did not ask editors for information on any benefits of employment beyond their basis salaries.

Finally , many editors commented that while salaries in many cases were increasing, so were their weekly work hours. In general, editors reported an increase in their work hours corresponding with cuts in their editorial staff.

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