Thursday, 16 May 2013

Kathy Law on Outsourcing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Kathy Law is a publishing professional with over 30 years' experience in both sales and distribution roles, most recently in business development and publication management at MPS and HighWire Press. She is a member of ALPSP's Professional Development Committee and is a co-opted member of the main Council.

Here, she reflects on the challenges publishers face when outsourcing all or part of their activity.

"For many organisations, outsourcing is not a daily event, but is a major shift for the organisation that can be fraught with potholes for the unwary or unprepared. There is the sense of losing control, where work is not done the way you normally do it. Sometimes, it can seem difficult to get your message or instructions across. And what do you do when you aren't getting the right results?

Poorly defined work specifications and unrealistic expectations about who does what and how much often lead to vendors not delivering what you expected. Confusion over how the outsourced activity will be managed can contribute to an unsatisfactory, and potentially costly outcome.

Sometimes it pays to take a step back and look at the challenges, good practices and pitfalls around outsourcing. There are many functions that can be outsourced. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you going to just outsource the ubiquitous typesetting scenarios? This is a hugely important area and probably the first thing to get outsourced by a publisher. 
  • Are you interested in outsourcing sales and marketing functions? 
  • What about hosting, content enhancement and conversion? 
  • And let's not forget copy editing, proofreading and other editorial functions. 

There is much to learn from talking through your outsourcing with a range of potential vendors and other publishers. The more insight you gain into what can go right or wrong - the good, the bad, and the ugly - the more likely you'll be able to be make sound decisions when selecting and working with your supplier.

Don't forget that it's not just a straight transactional relationship, there are also valuable insights to be had on handling cultural differences. Crucially, think about how outsourcing can be turned into a benefit for your publishing activity by allowing you to re-focus affected staff into positive channels of other activity.

In my experience, the more thought that goes into these areas, the more positive and successful the outsourcing relationship will be."

Kathy will be sharing her experience at the ALPSP seminar Outsourcing: the good, the bad and the ugly on 12 June in London. Book your ticket now.


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