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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The evolution of publishing outsourcing and what it means for you

Publishing outsourcing is changing. Vendors overseas have upskilled and now take a management role – finding and managing freelancers. Kathryn Munt explains what this means for you.

Outsourcing is not new to the UK’s publishing industry. Editorial 1 work has been undertaken by freelancers for many years, especially the work that requires subject matter expertise. When it comes to outsourcing to vendors overseas, printing was placed offshore almost four decades ago, and that was soon followed by production work.

More recently we’ve experienced a change in the way that outsourcing editorial work is being carried out: some of the offshore vendors are now managing the work.

What is driving this change?

In part, digital technologies are taking priority over the traditional solutions and publishers need greater profit margins to reinvest in their business:

‘’The publishing industry is going through a unique transition. Technology-enhanced content has the power to change how we read and learn … Consumers want content ‘on the fly’, in smaller bytes, interlinked … content creators have been and need to catch up … Consumer usage patterns are constantly evolving so content needs to evolve at the same pace as the platforms.’’ Uday Majithia, assistant VP technology services, Impelsys, in Publisher’s Weekly, August 2018

A second reason is the consolidation that we have experienced in UK publishing whereby smaller independent publishers have been acquired by larger firms who are accountable to shareholders:

‘’For small and university publishers to constantly up-skill their teams to keep pace with changing consumer needs and newer technologies, while consistently producing high-quality, high-impact publications without increasing the budget or the resources … is a big hurdle.’’ Ravi Venkataramani, CEO, Exeter Premedia Services, in Publisher’s Weekly, August 2018

These financial pressures have led publishers to scrutinise their operational costs, and consequently the management of freelance editorial work is shifting to an outsourced model.

The offshore vendors who have traditionally provided production services have been developing their capabilities and resources for content and editorial work to be able to take on this management work. Editorial work is now being placed with these vendors, who in turn contract and manage the freelancers. The model is already well established in the USA and many vendors have opened offices locally to be closer to the customers and to have better access to the freelancer base.

Another factor driving this change is the ‘redefining’ of publishing. McGraw Hill as a learning science company; as a learning company and Cengage is ‘an educational content, technology and services company.’ These publishers are placing their in-house focus on customer engagement, market research, concept development, brand management and customer experience, and are placing the ‘publishing work’ with third parties contracted to take on ‘full-service activity’; that is, much of the publishing work.

What does this mean for the freelance community in the UK?

My recent discussions with publishers indicate that this trend is not going to revert. Some publishers have commented that they will now work only with those freelancers who are contracted via their preferred vendor partners.

At a meeting with one of the main offshore vendors 2 providing editorial services to UK publishers, I asked what their expectations of freelancers were. Here are some of the replies:

  • know how to work with publishers
  • open to understanding the vendor’s perspective
  • quick to learn how to work with a company in another country
  • flexible to new ways of working and to accommodating difference
  • willing to ‘’partner’’ with the vendor
  • tech savvy, or willing to learn
  • proactive.

This change to how you work as a freelancer may seem daunting if you have only ever worked directly with the publisher. At the Publishing Training Centre our mission is to support all parties in the publishing industry - in addressing both current and future challenges. We are now considering ways to promote dialogue between vendors and freelancers so that everyone has a better understanding of what it takes to work together and deliver the publishers’ business successfully.

Importantly, the UK publishing freelancer community is a vital part of the UK publishing ecosystem, and this needs to be at the forefront of all discussions and considerations.

The Publishing Training Centre will be sharing updates shortly and if you’d like to get involved, do get in touch: kathryn@publishingtrainingcentre.co.uk

1 By editorial I mean development editing, copy-editing, proofreading, indexing, proof collation and other services that involve engagement with content.
2 Not all the outsourcing companies are offshore. Some UK-based vendors are now offering the management of editorial work to ensure their business proposition is attractive.

Outsourcing work in practice for freelancers

 WHAT? Outsourced projects can include anything from a single service such as copy-editing or project management through to ‘full service’, including commissioning.   WHEN? Business hours tend to be the same as the publishers’ hours, so ‘9  to 5’ is the norm. Some earlier or later meetings may be required on an ad  hoc basis. 
 WHY? Some of the publishers’ reasons are to reduce and control costs; improve the company’s focus; free up in-house resources for other purposes; reduce lead times; accommodate the business demand cycle; or access resources not available internally.   WHERE? Those outsourcing companies with offices in the UK may request freelances to work from the local office; otherwise, it will be a case of working from your home office. 

 HOW? The teams managing the freelances will be offshore (e.g. in India or the Philippines). Some of the outsourcing companies have already opened offices in the UK, and freelances may be contracted and managed by these ‘onshore’ staff.  Many of the vendors have their own freelance management system; you’ll be expected to register into the system, and from there the vendor will allocate projects, issue work orders and manage invoices. 

Communications are done via email, Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom and other relevant technologies. Projects are usually set up and managed with thevendors’ proprietary systems whereas typescripts and files may be managed within the client’s own content management system. It all depends on the vendor, the publisher and the project.

 HOW MUCH? The fees are often agreed with the publisher before they are offered to you. Page rates are the norm: vendors don’t, and won’t, work with hourly rates. It is therefore very important for the freelance to see and agree to the scope of work, and to have received a brief before committing to a project.  

Work is usually paid per service, and payments are normally made within one month of receipt of the invoice. On larger projects a work order with several payment stages may be issued.



Kathryn Munt
Publishing Training Centre CEO

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