Publishing is a global, multi-billion-dollar industry that encompasses bookstores and the print book publishing business, magazine and newspaper publishing, digital books and media, and self-publishing both in print and on digital platforms. Master’s in publishing studies programs are unique graduate programs that offer an extensive curriculum grounded in the fundamentals of traditional and digital publishing, coupled with study in specific professional fields of interest.
In these programs, students are exposed to major publishing areas, such as book and magazine media, and develop a foundational, working knowledge of the industry. With this knowledge, students design an academic track in subjects that match their professional goals. Whether in media content development, traditional book publishing, editing, media marketing or online media, they are prepared to pursue career paths in publishing houses, educational presses, website publications, independent presses, academic journals and more.
Classification of Master’s in Publishing Programs
Publishing is a longstanding professional field that, in the past twenty years, has experienced a seismic shift due to the advent of the internet and online media. Broadly, graduate degree programs in publishing blend the study of traditional print and digital media, covering topics ranging from acquisitions and contracts to design and marketing, copyright law and editorial ethics to editing and product distribution. Students gain a fundamental understanding of the publishing world, but traditionally focus their studies in a practical specialization. Typical specializations in publishing include the following:
- Digital Media
- Marketing and Distribution
- Technology and Design
In addition, most master’s in publishing programs require students to complete either a capstone thesis project or a real-world internship that allows them to develop and apply professional skills that will be relevant to their work post-graduation. Naming of these programs varies by institution, with some schools offering Master of Publishing programs, while others designate their programs as Master of Arts in Publishing programs or Master of Science in Publishing programs. Example programs include the following: the Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration at Western Colorado University, the Master of Science in Publishing at New York University, the Master of Arts in Publishing from Rosemont College, and the Master of Professional Studies in Publishing from George Washington University.
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Curriculum Details for Master’s Programs in Publishing
Due to the rapidly changing nature of the publishing industry, graduate programs have adjusted their curriculum to prepare their students for the 21st century publishing industry. They have adopted an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together courses in online media and graphic design, business and negotiation, and production and marketing. In turn, the curriculum concentrates on practical knowledge and skill development, providing graduates with the tools necessary to work in any area of publishing – such as online websites, newspaper, university presses, and small independent firms.
Before embarking on any professional specialization courses, students in master’s in publishing programs must complete a set of core course requirements. In most programs, core coursework covers common topics such as publication design, marketing strategy, inventory and production processes, book publishing, and digital design.
After completing 12 to 15 core credit hours, students transition into their specialized coursework that is specific to a professional area, such as digital media, editorial practices or marketing. These tracks generally require between 15 and 18 hours of study to complete. Finally, students may also be required to complete independent research and write a thesis paper or complete a capstone project to earn their degree.
Below is a list of sample courses students may take in a publishing master’s program:
- Fundamentals of Editorial Practices: Concentrates on the editor’s role in both professional and academic settings, introducing students to concepts in editorial standards, responsibilities and the relationship between the author and editor.
- Introduction to Publishing Principles: Explores the foundational principles of publishing, highlighting industry practices and standards across genres in acquisition, writing and editing, production, distribution and marketing.
- Business Practices in Publishing: An examination of the core principles of the publishing business, reviewing the central practices of the industry, ranging from budgeting and contracts to inventory control and publishing rights.
- Publishing Management: An overview of the methodology behind publishing management, specifically examining organizational structures by publishing type (e.g. journal, magazine, newspapers) and their individual processes.
- Book Acquisition and Editing: Focuses on the content acquisition process, including the end-to-end acquisition-to-editing process, licensing, editing workflow, vendor relations and editorial responsibilities.
As noted above, master’s in publishing programs generally require students to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours of study, including either a graduate thesis, capstone project or internship to graduate. Traditionally, students complete their master’s degree in approximately 24 months of study.
Below is a sample curriculum plan for students enrolled in a master’s in publishing graduate program, with a specialization in digital media and e-publishing.
Master’s in Publishing Programs versus Master’s in Mass Communication Programs
Although graduate degrees in publishing and mass communication share similar curricula and, to a degree, common career paths, they are significantly different academic programs. Master’s in mass communication students study the theory of communication and develop professional skills in specialized areas such as journalism, digital media, public relations, or marketing.
On the other hand, students in master’s in publishing programs complete curricula designed to prepare them for employment opportunities in content acquisition, design, production and distribution. In turn, students take less theoretical coursework and concentrate their studies in practical professional areas, such as contract negotiation, publishing rights and ethics, design standards, copyediting, and publishing inventory control.
Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Publishing
Publishing is an industry with a long history and diverse opportunities spread across multiple business sectors. The expansive nature of the industry offers graduates with a master’s degree in publishing a chance to work in areas such as product development, editorial, business and marketing, content management, sales and more. Below are seven major types of publishing settings that span both traditional and digital media production.
- Trade Publications: These are commercial businesses that publish a range of both non-fiction and fiction materials for general audiences, from cookbooks to romance novels. Major publishers include HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House.
- Academic Journals: These are periodicals that publish scholarly research across nearly every academic discipline, such as biology, law, engineering or English. Sample journals include the American Law and Economics Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, Nature and the Journal of Adult Education.
- University Presses: These are non-profit publishers that are either housed in or partner with colleges and universities to acquire, publish and distribute books and journals that are academic in nature. Example university presses include Amherst College Press, Fordham University Press and Saint Joseph’s University Press.
- Independent Publishing Houses: Ranging in size from large to small boutique publishers, independent presses traditionally specialize in non-mainstream content and may specialize in specific genres (e.g. poetry or essays) or by publication type (e.g. graphic novels, photo books, or craft magazines or newsletters). Example independent publishing houses include Curbside Splendor, Coffee House Press, Two Dollar Radio, and Hanging Loose Press.
- Educational Presses: These publishers offer an array of specialized content for students across grade levels (K-12, higher education), such as textbooks, academic software, study guides and more. Major educational publishers include Pearson, Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters and McGraw-Hill Education.
- Web Publishing: These publishers represent the largest and increasingly diverse number of websites that publish content across private, non-profit, and government sectors. Examples include Vox.com, HuffingtonPost.com, and NPR.com.
- Magazine Publishing: These publishers develop and publish specialized content across disciplines (e.g. sports, fashion, woodworking) and audiences (e.g. teens, auto mechanics, retirees). Sample magazine publishers include Conde Nast, Meredith/Time Inc., Bauer Publishing and Heart Magazines.
Whether students pursue careers in acquisition at Avon, as an editor at Hachette Book Group or in content marketing for Able Muse Press, a graduate education in publishing can open doors across the entire industry.
Below are sample career paths graduates with a master’s in publishing may want to pursue:
- Commissioning Editor: Commissioning editors and publishing rights managers work throughout the industry, tasked with finding, reviewing, choosing and acquiring materials for specific publications or books. In this role, they work closely with new and existing authors, legal departments, agents and editors, handling contracts and negotiation and managing budgeting planning around content acquisition.
- Digital Content Manager: Digital content managers oversee content development, publication, and marketing for websites. Driving site content strategy, digital content managers work with editors, in-house and freelance writers, designers and developers to commission and publish content for the site’s audience and business goals.
- Copy Editor: Copy editors work directly on written copy, reviewing it for spelling and grammatical errors, ensuring the copy adheres to stylistic guidelines, fact checking research, and communicating with the writer throughout the writing process. They can work across different publishing fields, including newspaper and books to marketing copy for a corporation.
- Magazine Feature Editor: Tasked with managing the strategy and quality of content for their publications, magazine feature editors select articles for publication, plan out future content ideas, organize and supervise writers and editors, coordinate with designers and photographers on artwork, and ensure that the content under their purview meets the publisher’s stylistic and legal guidelines.
- Title Manager: Working on the sales side of publishing, title managers coordinate and oversee publishing inventory, production and sales, and collaborating with sales directors, publishers and sales reps. They handle print orders and develop print estimates from market demand for publishing house materials (e.g. books, study guides, etc.).