Got an interesting question from an indexing student awhile back. Her use of the term job prospects created this response from me that might be useful for lots of beginning indexers, and editors, too. In answer to her query about what the “job prospects” were in indexing, I responded:
When you say “job prospects” it makes me think of actual employee jobs, which are extremely rare in the book indexing business. If you intend to get a full-time job for a single employer like a publisher, you will be very likely to be disappointed. National Geographic Society, maybe (although their current partner, 21st Century Fox may have changed the indexing process for the magazine). Since only non-fiction books have indexes (as a rule), publishers have been outsourcing book indexing to freelance independent contractors for many, many years (like, since the 1960s at least). For awhile in the 1990s, some technical companies (like Microsoft) actually employed indexers, but now that virtually all technical documentation has turned into online help files, that sort of job has gone away.
People who have regular employer/employee relationship jobs in the broader information access category would be database indexers, information architects, and taxonomists. All of these jobs involve the indexer’s way of thinking in various forms, but you may need specialized training to qualify for these jobs.
If your use of the term “job prospects” was meant in a more general way, I’d advise you to do your brain a favor and switch to entrepreneurial language (think in terms of marketing, clients, ownership). It will keep you away from the kinds of expectations that prospective employees have about regular salaries and job security (although there isn’t much of that last one anyway). If you’ve never run a small-scale freelance business before and intend to do book indexing (and possibly expand into other indexing-related occupations), you will benefit from taking the additional Business of Indexing short course offered by the American Society for Indexing. There’s a lot to running your own biz vs. being an employee, and it doesn’t suit everyone.
As for the “industry” itself: Back-of-book indexing hasn’t died…yet, but it’s in the process of being resurrected from a time when folks thought that search was sufficient to replace human judgment in finding significant material in a text. More and more publishers, not just of printed books but also online in ebooks, etc., are coming back to the importance of indexing. There is still some extra downward pressure on compensation for this task, particularly among large traditional publishers, but there is more interest in having indexes made.
I would definitely encourage you to look into training in ebook embedded indexing since I think there’s going to be more of that in the future, particularly using the indexing features in Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign.
And if you do have some curiosity about database indexing or taxonomy, look around and see what that entails; there are a number of opportunities in this area as different companies that provide information access in various areas (job listings online, resources for finding businesses based on subject matter), where computerized search brings up silly results, and humans are needed to do the semantic analysis and sort out what search matches really make sense.
So, lots of possibilities. And I don’t happen to believe in the philosophy of scarcity and propriety when it comes to finding project opportunities. If you are good at this stuff, and you have the will to do the research and training work, there will be stuff available to do. You just need to decide what you want to pursue and be willing to wait for that little bit of timing and luck that’s necessary to get started. After you establish yourself, reputation and visibility will keep things going.
Just some thoughts after 25+ years. 🙂