Erik Sherman's WriterBiz

A spot about the business of writing as seen by a freelance writer. That includes marketing, sales, contracts, copyright, planning, research - in short, the business end of writing.

Name: Erik Sherman
Location: Massachusetts, United States

I'm an independent writer and photographer who covers business, food, technology, books, media, general features, and pretty much anything appealing that results in a signed check. My work has appeared in such places as the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Newsweek Japan, Fortune, Inc, Fortune Small Business, the Financial Times, Advertising Age, Saveur, US News & World Report, and Continental

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Copy Editing to India

Businessweek has a good story on an Indian copyediting and reporting outsource firm that is even doing work for the Miami Herald:
Mindworks has been handling outsourcing assignments from non-Indian publishers for four years. It expects plenty more business as the cost-cutting in U.S. and European print media grinds on. Some Western publishers do their outsourcing in-house—Thomson Reuters (TRI), for instance, has moved basic Wall Street reporting on U.S., European, and Gulf equities to a new bureau in Bangalore. But other media companies prefer to outsource to the Indians directly. On June 24, Mindworks made global headlines when the Associated Press reported that the company had taken on copyediting and layout work for a couple of publications owned by the California media publishing group Orange County Register Communications.
We're in a time where geographic situation means ever less when it comes to getting work. If you are not building expertise and abilities that are difficult to replicate, then you are facing a more uncertain professional future.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

No Coverage Outsourcing to India ... for Now

I had mentioned the story about a web site outsourcing Pasadena city council coverage to India. Now it appears that public attention has kept the site owner from doing the outsourcing. Some writers have been passing the word triumphantly, but if anything the problem for writers is simply postponed:
"We've been prevented from doing that due to the attention that we've received," Macpherson said Monday.
What happens when the attention focuses elsewhere? Or when the next web site, or magazine or paper, does it more quietly? Polish up those skills and increase the value now. Wait, and it may be too late.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Indian Outsourcing Teaches Business Lessons

I've seen a number of writers on writers' boards upset by news that a web site called Pasadena Now is outsourcing coverage of the Pasadena, Calif. city council to a couple of reporters in India. They are concerned that over time more reporting jobs will move overseas, putting them out of work. Their concern about the movement of work overseas is well founded. This is the way of the world, folks, and if what you do is purely intellectual in nature, there's a good chance that under the right conditions it could be done by someone in another country willing to charge much less than you. But the question is what makes up the right conditions?

In this story, you can learn three things about your business today. One is a concept called barrier to entry. That means something necessary to do a job and the difficulty of being able to supply it. In this case, the only barriers to entry for this reporting job were the ability to speak and write in English, a basic knowledge of news writing, the ability to see and hear the council meetings, and the willingness to work cheaply. What has taken people by surprise is that they assumed viewing the meetings could only happen in person.

But look at that list again. The barriers to entry were always absurdly low. Anyone who could write halfway decently and had read a beginning book on news writing would have been capable of doing the job. So ask yourself what barriers of entry there are for the types of writing you do. At writers' conferences, editors often say that they want to know what makes one freelancer the best person for the job. I think the formulation is a bit overblown, but still important. What value do you bring in terms of special knowledge, contacts developed over time, or abilities that would be difficult to duplicate? If all you offer is a willingness to make some phone calls and maybe an idea or two, your business is highly insecure. Smart writers keep improving their skills and areas of expertise and learning new ones as well as finding new ways to build relationships with clients and continually adding value that they bring to the table.

The second lesson is that you have to keep examining your current assumptions. Don't become a buggy whip manufacturer who scoffs at these new fangled horseless carriages. In the case of this story, people don't realize just what Internet distributed video makes possible. Instead of becoming a victim of technology, put it to work for you. Then you can go back to the first lesson and consider what extra value technology might let you bring. Maybe it's time to learn how to create your own photos, audio, and video so you can offer a full selection of media choices to your clients. Then you have the added benefit of additional revenue streams.

Third lesson is that value is a relative thing. I'd argue that being unable to question people both before and after the meetings meant that the coverage would be inferior. But the web site publisher in this case disagreed. Something is only of economic and business value if someone is willing to pay for it. While you're upgrading your skills and knowledge, it's time to upgrade your clients. Don't chase the cheapskates who think that there is no difference between the work of different writers. Leave them to writers who are apparently happy to work for little, because that's what they keep doing. Look for a better type of client, and when you find them, offer knowledge, skill, value, and professionalism that will keep them coming back.

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