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Outsourcing Editorial Work

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Does your publication outsource editorial, layout, or design work to freelancers?

By Meredith L. Dias

This month, we surveyed our readers about outsourcing. We wanted to get an anecdotal sense of how many magazines are using freelancers to complete various stages of the editorial, production, and design process. Editors spoke candidly about their outsourcing practices and offered helpful tips for fellow magazine editors who might be thinking about hiring freelancers.

What Is "Outsourcing"?

Some editors weren't clear on what we meant by "outsourcing." To clarify, we were referring to the practice of hiring freelancers or outside companies to complete various tasks. As we discovered when we reviewed the survey responses, in some cases this means actual overseas outsourcing. In other cases, it meant outsourcing to outside editorial or design service providers.

Outsourcing means different things to different magazines. For some, it's a stopgap measure during tough financial times. For others, it's a luxury possible during only the most prosperous of times. Some magazines only hire freelance writers, while others use freelance editors, designers, and/or layout artists.. Let's take a closer look at some of the trends our survey revealed.

Survey Results Overview

When we reviewed the survey responses, we noticed right away that there was a near even split. Roughly half of the respondents hired freelancers in some capacity, while the other half didn't outsource at all.

Editors offered up a lot of reasons for outsourcing: lean full-time staffs, the desire for an outsider's eyes on the copy before press time, or requiring a level of expertise that only an outside consultant could provide. Reasons for not outsourcing were just as varied: sufficient full-time staff, lean budgets, or a perceived lack of quality in freelance work. Here's what some of them had to say.

To Outsource

Ryan Alford, owner and founder of Snowshoe magazine, employs freelancers often: "I outsource my editorial about 95 percent. I do most of the editing, project management, research, proofreading, and so forth. All the writing is performed by freelancers whom I've worked with for several years or recently jumped on board to help--based on inquiries they sent personally. I pay flat fees for articles, $50 to $250 (depending on the length and involvement)."

One editorial manager of an international nonprofit association spoke enthusiastically about her freelancers: "I produce the two electronic publications, including article planning, editing from other internal sources, original interviewing and writing, and building them (previously done by graphic designers). I outsource copy editing/proofreading to a freelance editor at a rate of about $100/hour. This is a huge help to me and she does a terrific job. I have always been very satisfied with any freelance person I have worked with over the years. My experience has been that they are hungry for the opportunity, work hard to produce what you are looking for (the more you are able explain your expectations/needs at the outset, the more successful they will be at producing what you want), and are fairly reasonable on the budget."

Not to Outsource

Carol Mangis of Consumer Reports tells us, "We don't outsource much. Unlike many other publications, our magazine has in-house copy-edit and research departments. If there's a special project coming up, we may bring in temporary editorial, copyediting, or writing help, but that's infrequent. And we tend to use the same people from project to project."

Martha Jolkovski, associate director of the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Assocation, reports that most of her publication's work is done in-house. "Our use of outsourcing is minimal," she tells us. "We do all of the graphic production of our magazine and other printed materials in-house, as well. Most of the work on all of our publications is done right here in our office by our tiny staff. This has worked well for more than 10 years.

Outsourcing Overseas

Some editors actually outsourced various stages of the publishing process overseas. One business magazine editor outsources his magazine's design to India. "We give them our more templated pieces, while our in-house art director handles heavier lifts, like covers, feature spreads and the like." He finds that outsourcing overseas is beneficial not just to his publication's bottom line, but also to the magazine's schedule. "What's nice about working with a global partner is the flexibility it gives you with time. For instance, we can send them stuff at the end of our day and have it back in the morning. It's sort of like having a second shift."

The Economy Effect

The weak economy has affected how magazine publishers do business with freelancers. Laura Porinchak, editor of AWCI's Construction Dimensions, told us, "We have been outsourcing our feature article writing (and nothing else) for more than 15 years. There was a time when we averaged four freelancers for almost every issue, but as the economy got worse and page counts went down, so did the number of features in each issue of our magazine. When the economy picks up again, we expect budgets and ad pages will increase; the use of freelancers will increase as well. That said, we've experienced a downsizing with our outsourcing as a reflection of the economy, but we hope we've hit bottom and look forward to the recovery."

What the Results Tell Us

Our anecdotal results indicate a ripe market for freelancers, who are the lifeblood of some magazines. That's likely why roughly half our respondents use freelancers in some capacity or other, whether it be writing, proofreading, editing, design, or layout. During times like these, when magazines are replacing fewer and fewer departing staffers, freelancing can be an attractive option for publishers who can't afford another full-timer and for unemployed (or underemployed) magazine professionals in search of work.

Come back next month for a short piece on how to employ freelancers to your publication's advantage, with tips from our own editors. If you have any tips to share with fellow editors on hiring freelancers, email us at editorsonly@publishinghelp.com.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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