Why do I say that there’s a problem? Well, rolling back the years to my newspaper days, it was one of the few areas never really addressed by a proper system, and in many cases nothing much has changed some 25 years later. Sure, there may be a bit more sophistication involved in terms of the basic tools (spreadsheets) used, but proper processes and systems are rare and the usual solution is to throw more people at it in finance – a largely hidden cost.
One could of course argue that if the majority of publishers aren’t overly fussed about this situation, then why does it matter? It certainly ought to matter but has been somewhat brushed under the carpet and not subjected to much or any scrutiny. This should change.
We all know that efficiencies and savings have had to be made and that more will need to follow. To this end, we’ve seen the growing trend of switching from in-house resource to external, largely to contributors. If you also consider how the pandemic has changed working practices, will this not further accelerate the trend? If so, and more content is produced outside of the office, then we have a very good reason as to why it ‘matters’ – surely if there is more use made of contributors, then the processes involved need to be as efficient as possible and be part of the overall workflow, not separate and opaque.
So, what are the problems and what can be done to improve things?
Firstly, it’s no doubt sensible to state that not everything I say applies to all publishers. Some may have perfectly sound ways of dealing with this part of the publishing process, but I think the majority are more likely to have nothing that could be termed as a coherent system and have to make do with cobbled together largely manual processes. And if this is the case, then it’s likely that the publisher will be faced with at least some of these issues:
- Who’s spending the money and when do you know about it? Do you know who is generating the commissions, in real-time and at what cost?
- Approvals: Are there any system controlled approval workflows in place or is everything on a trust basis?
- Budgets: How do you know what is being spent against the budget (other than probably via manual efforts post publication)?
- Connecting to the contributors: Is it easy to connect the commission to the correct contributor, is there any automation?
- Getting the content in: Is it easy to manage the incoming content, does it automatically end up in the right part of your CMS and in the right format?
- Payments: Do the promised payments get automatically processed within the finance system or is there manual effort involved, probably involving double-keying?
- Reports: Can you easily get to see the numbers you need – spend on say a section or an issue at any point, cumulative totals, comparisons etc or do you have to ask others to take time out to provide you with such reports? Or just don’t look maybe?
Unless you adopt a systemised approach, you will never really get proper control over commissioning and the contributors. Let’s consider what a system could do for you. The four main areas that would see improvements are:
- Cost control: A system should offer you complete transparency about the costs, in real-time, including performance against budget. You should also consider using ‘approval’ levels – ie. set a limit against a commissioner that if exceeded requires a higher level of approval. A system should also show you the status of all commissions – what’s been commissioned, whether approved or not, content received or not. And you would no longer have to wait until after the event to know the true aggregated contributor cost for a publication.
- Contributors: Contributors are best managed by having an account as this would allow you to control various parameters such as payment and vat terms, payment methods and default usage rights. You could also look to store generic or individually specific documents against them (eg. T&Cs, retainment contracts or generic documentation around any agreements) as this would be a great way of ensuring all documentation is centrally stored. Your system should be capable of sending an automatic email to the contributor as soon as a commission is approved, containing details of the commission and with a link to an upload portal to be used when the content is ready for delivery. If your CMS caters for it, you can also consider more direct access for the contributor if that best fits your workflow.
- Content ingestion: Using an upload portal would provide many benefits. The contributor will know exactly what to do and you will know exactly where the content will be arriving. No need to monitor disparate email accounts any more. When the content arrives, it can be easily scanned before being moved into the CMS or, if preferred, it could automatically enter the CMS and be delivered into the correct area based on the metadata contained within the commission itself. You could also consider going one step further by having the content automatically transformed during its ingestion – eg. a Word document could be converted to the format used in your CMS such as ICML or other. Any ‘rights’ associated with the commission should be captured so that they can be adhered to within the workflow.
- Payments: If you have everything relevant contained within a single system, you should be in a position to trigger ‘payment runs’. These could consist of files being passed over to your finance system (or via an API) containing all of the necessary information for the contributor payments to be made and for the general ledger to be correctly updated. This would help avoid lots of manual effort and ensure that the correct contributors get paid the correct amounts, and in a timely manner.
All of this should make a real difference to your operation. Finally, costs will be under proper control, those that need to see the numbers can. The interaction with the contributors will be automated, the content will be correctly tagged at source and the overall workflow will be much improved. Much to their joy, manual admin tasks will be much reduced for both finance and editorial, freeing up the latter to dedicate more time to their publications. Order out of chaos ensues…
You may already have addressed some or a lot of the above, or it may simply be food for thought, but if you would like to examine things a little deeper, here’s some information about us.
In business since 1993, our software and services cover multiple areas of the overall publishing workflow, encompassing Contributor Management, Content Management, Digital Asset Management, Websites, Multi-channel publishing, Sales order Processing, Automations, Production and system integrations. In addition, we can also provide hosting and system admin services, ad-hoc development, consultancy and first rate support.
We work very much as partners to our customers and always look to ensure that the best possible ROI is to be had from whatever products, services and support are deployed.
It would be great to hear from you if you are looking for new ways of doing things, are looking to replace or enhance your existing systems, or are in need of some consultancy. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you think we might be of help.
Media Systems Ltd
Mill House, High Road, Epping, Essex CM16 4DY
Tel: +44 (0)1992 563390