Publishing Outsourcing: Copyediting and Offshoring
Publishing outsourcing is a $770+ million industry in India, the Philippines, and primarily other
Asian countries since its inception in the mid 1970’s. This market is primarily comprised of
scientific, technical, and medical (STM) content in journals and professional books as well as
higher education and trade books, magazines, and other non-traditional publishing content in
corporations and the legal field.
Publishing has always been a relatively low-margin industry, and as labor costs have risen in the
United States and Europe in the 1990s, publishers have sought lower labor cost alternatives
offshore in India and other Asian countries.
The aggregate publishing outsourcing market was valued at approximately $770 million in 2008
with the vast majority of the market concentrated in India with approximately $650 million.
The remaining $120 million is located in the Philippines, the second largest revenue share next to
India, with the remaining portion divided between China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.
The Philippines has become a legitimate alternative outside of India especially in the last 5 years.
Annualized market growth has been about 20% per year for the last five years, and is projected
to be at $1.2 billion by 2012.
The major publishing services provided include content services (including copyediting), design
services, technology services, and a mix of other technical and software services. Content
services is the largest service category comprising about 70% of the total revenue followed by
design services which is about 12% of total revenue. The lion’s share, 60%, of the market is
comprise of STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishing which includes scientific and
engineering books, journals, and other content areas. A large portion of this market also includes
professional, academic publishing targeted for engineers, scientists, and doctors. The second
largest content segment includes educational textbook publishing, including K-12 to higher
education content. This is an especially strong growth segment, although not as mature as the
STM market, as many textbook publishers are under increasing pricing and cost pressure
especially in the United States. The next segment in terms of size, and the newest to embrace
offshore outsourcing, is the magazine market at about 9% of total revenue. This market segment
is increasingly faced with cost and pricing pressure as well as more and more magazine
publishers are facing competition from web sites for similar content, as well as declining print
advertising revenues. Legal outsourcing is the next segment with about 6% of the total.
An equally important technical development during the same period is that both Standard
Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) became an
innovative way to capitalize on the advantages of single source publishing for outputs other than
printing. Single source publishing is a catalyst for using XML where a publisher can create
content once and use that content at minimal cost for other non-print channels. Currently, there
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are hundreds of publishing outsourcing vendors in both India and the Philippines—the two major
destinations for publishing outsourcing—as well as other Southeast Asian locations. The major
components of this outsourcing industry include copy editing and composition in QuarkXPress,
Framemaker, Adobe InDesign, and Arbortext (3B2) as well as coding in XML or SGML.
Outsourcing these premedia functions offshore often reduces a publisher’s overhead costs as
much as 40% depending on the content. Also, in the late 1990s, XML became a ubiquitous
publishing standard, and this service is now a core service for many offshore vendors. However,
copy editing is also a very important service as well and is often outsourced to offshore vendors.
Copy editing is a difficult skill to acquire and develop, as it requires considerable time, know-
how, and practice. Good writing and editing are often considered rare, lost arts, as they require
practice and work over an extended period of time with little immediate gratification. As Gene
Fowler once said “writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of
blood form on your forehead.” And editing is as much of an art as a technical skill. It requires a
keen eye for the fine nuances of language that often change in use and application depending on
the subject matter and the audience. Also, editing the content in one’s own native language and
in another language is often much more arduous than many realize. As many non-native English
speakers know, English is a difficult language to learn, and especially to write.
Consequently, outsourcing copy editing services to India is often considered problematic for
many publishers outside of India, especially for new publishers who are not familiar with
offshore outsourcing. Many of the challenges are cultural and related to how the English
language is spoken and written in both countries. Also, there is often a fundamental
misunderstanding in what copy editing actually means if outsourced to India. Carefully defining
the copy editing process, therefore, is very important for both outsourcing vendors and
publishers. Clearly, anyone who understands the copy editing process is aware that there are
many different levels of copyediting. Anyone who has written a paper for college or a business
presentation knows that it is very common to have widely varying opinions about what is, and is
not, good writing. Consequently, editing is often highly subjective: there is rarely an exact or
perfect piece of writing. Perspective varies irrespective of the content.
This concise review covers copy editing automation tools, manual developmental editing with
Microsoft Word, the importance of being well read and to practice writing, and the significance
of effective copy editing as a marketing tool.
There are different levels of copy editing: light (copy markup), medium (copy markup with
occasional rewording and rephrasing), and heavy (exhaustive editing). Developmental editing is
an even more advanced level of editing that is often handled by a specialized language editor,
and is often not outsourced. The majority of copy editing that is outsourced to India or to the
Philippines is under the category of STM books and journals. Copy editing STM content in the
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United States is quite expensive since a subject matter expert is required, and is often outsourced
to reduce the publishing costs. STM content is often delivered to an outsourcing vendor as peer-
reviewed and technically edited by a content specialist. Most of the authors are professors or
doctorates, specializing in the content such as physics or botany. Such content is frequently
copyedited using automation tools (Microsoft Word-based), which many outsourcing vendors
use to expedite the editorial process. Specific examples are Inera’s eXtyles®, Aptara’s PowerX
Editor, and many other proprietary tools. Using automation tools is a legitimate copy editing
service, and new publishers, who are not familiar with this software-based process, may be
surprised with the results, as it often does not involve in-depth or developmental editing. The
exhaustive level of copy editing is often referred to as “developmental editing” or simply heavy
editing by almost all publishers.
An issue worth noting is that many STM books and journals are usually time sensitive, because
the research is often groundbreaking. Consequently, the speed to publication is often a strategic
marketing issue. This is often true in fields such as genetic engineering and biotechnology.
“Online” first is part of this process where journal articles are published online first on the
publisher’s web site to expedite the availability of new research, and then in print much later.
These timely journals are often published monthly or even weekly. This timeliness is a
compelling reason for a shorter publishing cycle where software automation tools are often used
and needed in editing to expedite the publication date. In many ways, the opposite issues are
often evident with humanities and social sciences (HSS) content that is often not so driven by
fast production schedules. Schedules might be monthly or even quarterly. Also, of particular
interest, the editing required in a linguistics journal is probably much more stringent than STM
content. Such content requires a specialized editing skill set that it is often not outsourced
successfully with offshore vendors. However, these are very general observations and may not
be strictly applicable with all publishers.
Developmental editing or heavy editing is an editing process that takes into consideration much
more than just the automation process found in software tools. This type of editing is usually
exclusively manual, intellectual, and a difficult process depending on the content. Developmental
editing is a type of editing that is often found in a freshman college English class in the United
States. Microsoft Word’s “track changes” with “balloon” comments are often used in this
process and is characterized by marginal notes or even corrections by hand. Even though
Microsoft Word is used, this is still considered a very manual process since comments are
manually keyed in by the editor. The content is reviewed on a very detailed level, and is beyond
the limit of most automation tools. Appropriate sentence structure, logic, diction, syntax,
parallelism, and other grammatical issues are reviewed. Appropriate diction is a critical issue:
using the “right” word for the “right” content for the “right” audience. Much of this editing
process is based on keen judgment, logical comprehension, and experience. In other words, the
following words are synonyms, but are used in different ways for different content and for a
different audience: “bad,” “terrible,” “awful,” or “inappropriate.” One of the words might be
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better than the others depending on the audience and the intended meaning. Much developmental
editing is based on the logic and sequence of the content which automation tools cannot easily
One of the most important personal characteristics of an effective copy editor is to be an avid
reader: reading more than the words and sentences. In short, examining the content very
carefully by re-reading and reviewing the sentences is essential. Reading content as a copyeditor
without altering the author’s meaning is critical. This takes much practice and commitment.
Another important characteristic of a good copy editor is to be an avid writer, too. Almost
always, a qualified copy editor is usually a zealous reader and writer and has a sense of the finer
nuances of language. Such editors are usually avid readers as well, and have a broad perspective
about the use of language similar to a repair technician who has repaired many different items
and is familiar with what tools to use and when, where, and how. The broader an editor’s
knowledge of words and sentences from his or her own reading and writing in different is like
having a large set of tools to repair written communication problems.
Consequently, an ideal copy editor is someone who knows the use and validity of automation
tools, but can also appreciate and employ manual editing. Both skills are very appropriate for a
successful copy editor in India or elsewhere. Both tools and skill sets are prerequisites and are
applicable at different levels of editing.
In the United States, two very useful books published each year are the Houghton-Mifflin titles
in The Best Of American series on essays (non-fiction) and short stories (fiction). Each book in
the series is a selection of the best short stories and essays published every year in the United
States. The short story selection is more creative, as the content is fiction, and the content in the
essays is more descriptive and analytic, as the content is non-fiction. Both book series are very
useful in terms of reviewing what is widely considered to be the best writing every year from an
American perspective. Much can be learned in both books about effective rhetoric, diction, and
sentence structure. Another very insightful web site is www.themeltingpot.com that often
highlights issues about effective written and spoken English—usually diction—specifically
targeted for East Indians.
Another very important issue worth comment is for the outsourcing vendor and copy editor to
clearly define the publisher’s copy editing expectations. Most publishers have a very specific
style guide that must be followed. For a copy editor to take on a new journal or book and to
deliver acceptable content in a week is probably very unrealistic, especially if the content is
STM. Previous experience would indicate that it is very prudent to temper the client’s
expectations that it may take as much as two months to become familiar with the publisher’s
style and the unique language characteristics of the content. In such cases, it is best to “under
promise,” and “over deliver” to insure a new client’s satisfaction. Managing the client’s
expectations will go a long way to improving the copy editing quality and satisfying the client as
a long-term customer.
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On a deeper level, copy editing is ultimately marketing. Words, like pictures, communicate a
message that can be very influential. “Just do it” is a powerful and ubiquitous Nike advertising
Clear, concise, convincing writing is at the heart of effective marketing. Advertisers are keenly
aware of this as they develop “catchy” phrases and words consumers remember when they buy
products or services. Ironically, many in the publishing field outside of India are very conscious
of the lack of credible English often seen on many outsourcing vendors’ web sites. This is
slightly outside of the review of this article, but is a crucial issue on how the company is
perceived internationally based on editing. Unfortunately, many Americans and other countries
are prejudiced in their view of East Indians standard of speaking and, especially, writing English.
The irony of this is that many publishers view such an issue with considerable dismay, thinking
that if a vendor cannot spell or compose good sentence structure, then that vendor is probably not
in a good position to handle their copy editing services. Of course, this perspective makes perfect
sense. Publishing outsourcing vendors are often notorious for having poorly written web sites
with many glaring grammatical problems. Potentially, one of the best ways to improve the
quality of copy editing and advance an editor’s career in India and elsewhere is to be sure that
the company’s web site uses standard English that is intelligible and convincing. Unfortunately,
the same issue often applies to marketing material sent to new customers. A vendor who will go
unnamed to protect the “grammatically guilty” has the following sentence on their web site as a
testimonial from an existing client:
Management of software releases at highest level, project management sets priorities
exactly according to agreements made.
Ouch! What a thorny sentence.
Such a sentence is not only grammatically awkward, but the meaning is totally illusive. What are
they trying to say? Not many publishers will find such statement a valid testimony to convince
them to work with such a vendor. Web sites are, obviously, very public. Most web marketers
realize that they have about 30 seconds to convince a potential client to stay on the site, or
leave-- often leaving forever. Consequently, it is imperative to use effective English to attract
new customers. The same principle applies to Microsoft PowerPoint sales presentations. They
need to be reviewed carefully for effective English before used with potential clients to avoid
very embarrassing moments of confusion.
In summary, effective writing is a valuable skill set, and one of the most strategic differentiators
for publishing outsourcing vendors in India and elsewhere. Effective copy editors can often be a
deciding factor for an outsourcing vendor acquiring new clients.
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Dr. N. Shaktheeswari, Ph.D., is the Deputy Manager - Copyediting, at Scientific Publishing
Services (P) Ltd. Shaktheeswari entered the copyediting field in 1998, after a doctorate degree
in botany from the Presidency College (Autonomous) at the University of Madras, Chennai. She
started her career at Newgen Imaging Systems (P.) Ltd, and in 2000 she joined Charon Tec (P)
Ltd., the book division of Macmillan Publishing Services, where she established a team of
copyeditors and indexers. In 2007 she began working for Scientific Publishing Services (P) Ltd.
She has direct responsibility for the copyediting department for new accounts.
James S. Hill is the USA Business Development Manager for Scientific Publishing Services (P)
Ltd, a leading publishing outsourcing vendor in Chennai, India. Hill has over 20 years of
publishing experience in editorial, production, sales, marketing and business development in
trade, academic, as well as STM publishing. He has an M.A. in English from Oklahoma State
University where he published his thesis on William Faulkner in Notes on Modern American
Literature, and on Thomas Carlyle in The Explicator, and composition articles in The Writing
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