Outsourcing skills is 'suicidal' say staff

Educational and academic publishers are risking a major skills gap in 10 years because of an over-reliance on outsourcing to save costs. This was the consensus of publishing staff at a campaign meeting hosted by National Union of Journalists and Unite, the UK's biggest trade union.
The "Stand Up for Quality in Academic and Educational Publishing" meeting was attended by more than 70 editors, designers and production staff from a range of companies including Elsevier, OUP, Pearson Education, Macmillan Education, Wiley and Taylor & Francis.

Dona Velluti, editor of interactive educational materials at a major education publisher, said: "The business model most publishers are using now—with an inhouse skeleton staff, who freelance everything out—is destroying the industry from the inside."

She said that so little editing and design was now done inhouse that young people joining the industry had no opportunity to learn core skills, describing it as "a suicidal strategy, very short term".

Adele Moss, senior managing editor at Macmillan Education, said: "Outsourcing comes about because of time pressures but you can't monitor standards in the same way. Wanting to get things done quickly to save money can often be a false economy because work has to be redone."

A senior education publisher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that "the world has changed", with editorial departments now dealing with much greater throughput. He said: "The curriculum is fast-changing, and although in the past books were exam-board specific, there were still 'blockbusters' in particular areas.

"Now you need to produce the book to a very specific syllabus and to get the same market share you probably have to publish three times as many books, plus sophisticated electronic offers."

An academic publisher added: "For many years the sourcing of scholarly line-editing and copy-editing for scholarly books and journals has been done globally. It's very flexible and just as adequate to have a skilled graduate in India doing it as a graduate in the UK."

Oxford Brookes University academic Stephen Ball, who researches issues of quality in publishing, is setting up an online site to invite comment on the issue from publishing staff. He said: "In academic and educational publishing, quality is at the very centre of what you provide."

Ball added: "There is a huge amount of anecdotal comment, but I'm trying to do an audit." The site will be live by the end of the year on the Oxford Brookes website at http://ah.brookes.ac.uk/research/project/publishing_quality_audit.