The Growing Need for More Efficient Editorial Workflow
“Operational inefficiency is viewed as one of the biggest blockers to income generation,” according to a central conclusion of Publishing Executive’s latest research on technology buying intentions. Publishers want “tools that streamline or even automate content distribution,” according to the report. They want to make “collaboration and content creation in multiple formats easier.”
My anecdotal experience aligns with this completely. In the past year or two I have heard more interest in new workflow options, a topic hardly ever mentioned in the past. It’s about time.
Twenty years ago, we all wrote magazine articles in Word docs. During the editing process we would send article versions from writer to editor and back. We would organize everything in desktop folders by issue. When done, we emailed each article to the art department. Almost always, the final version was the one that made it into print.
That is still the way it is done today by the vast majority of B2B publishers. I include those who use Google Docs, which despite cloud access has its own funky issues. Neither that nor MS Word pretends to be a content management system (CMS).
How is it possible that editors are the only professionals in 21st-Century business using 20-year-old technology?
I think this started when digital-nerds, with nary a thought of print, coopted CMS to mean managing web-only content. WordPress is called a CMS, for example, used by 30% of the websites on the internet. It surely does basic web content management, but if you are reading this, you are a professional with industrial strength multimedia needs.
I see workflow in a linear way: A-B-C. If your workflow goes A-D-F-B, I think it’s wrong. I admit I am among the shrinking crowd for whom cut-&-paste meant razor blades and wax. When workflow depended on separate typesetting machines, it was far too expensive to zig and zag. I believe that’s still true.
For those B2B publishers in print, most create print content in a separate workflow from web. After whatever, often homegrown, workflow tool is used for editing, the articles are placed into InDesign. Some of these workflows incorporate InCopy, which is a good tool to handle final edits while an article is in production. That is management by-article, not enterprise editorial management.
After final publication design, articles are copied one-by-one into a web CMS from the press-ready pdf. This violates my non-zig-zag rule. It creates make-work for a junior editorial staffer who should have better things to do than having copy-and-paste part of their job description. I have even met two publishers whose staffs use InDesign to actually write and edit articles. It is the epitome of the adage, “You can hammer a nail with a wrench, but it’s not the right tool.”
A Unified Workflow
Why would you want to handle each article multiple times? Why wait for a print workflow to be completed before deploying a work-around to get the same story online? There was a time when print publishers would embargo articles until the print edition was mailed. A few still do. But studies I have seen that even longtime print readers prefer multiple options. They are not not going to read something in the magazine because they saw it online.
Digital-first -- enter-once-distribute-anywhere –--will become the standard because it makes too much sense not to. A unified CMS supports collaboration among all content creators in your organization. Articles are written once, then sent to InDesign for print and/or placed online. Newsletters should be part of the mix. Make sure your next CMS can feed your newsletters with the appropriate portion of featured article. Whether or not you currently license content, look for the ability via XML to automatically send content to syndication buyers. As suggested by the research analysis, seek solutions that also support events, podcasts, video, and more.
There are other benefits from more efficient editorial workflow technology. One publisher complained their “library has gotten too large to do a reasonable search for assets.” Be sure any CMS you consider sits atop a database that holds all your content, including photos and videos, with solid search functionality. Quick access to previous articles enables reporters and editors to leverage existing publication research from past editorial investment. This saves writers time and improves their stories, sometimes unveiling sources, facts, and quotes otherwise forgotten.
Fortunately for those publishers shopping for workflow tools, this is all getting easier. Headless CMS solutions are being rolled out which will expand the choices available and give you the ability to plug in new efficiencies into your current websites.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.