New benchmarks for print editorial productivity

Every year, ABM takes an in-depth look at the workings of the industry in its Managing Profits report. I recently analyzed the 2012 data on editorial operations at print b-to-b magazines, and some interesting benchmarks stood out.

The research considered 45 different brands that included print magazine publishing as a source of revenue. In total, the 45 brands generated 54 percent of their aggregate revenue from print. However, the range was vast, from one brand that derived just 3 percent of revenue from print, to four that were 100 percent print specialized.

Looking at 45 brands that publish magazines, average number of editorial pages per editor per year is 109, and the median number of editorial pages per editor per year is 146. The scatter in this data is wide, with nine brands reporting less than 50 pages per editor, and 6 brands reporting more than 300 pages per editor. For brands reporting higher than 20 percent margins (on the brand level), 11 out of 14 produced 125 pages per editor or more. For brands reporting negative profitability, only one out of seven hit that benchmark.

The 45 brands produced 69 magazines, 30,000 editorial pages and $101 million in print ad revenue. On average, these brands saw print profitability in the 30 percent range (that’s on the brand level, not company-wide).

If you graph pages per editor on the vertical axis of a graph and print profitability on the horizontal axis, you get a graph that looks like this:

Graph: Editorial productivity vs profitability

Editorial productivity is higher among print brands that are more print-focused.

The correlation here suggests that editors are more productive (they process more pages per year) at more print-focused brands. That is, for brands that generate significant revenue from non-print sources, editors process fewer pages per year, presumably because they are processing content for online and event functions.

There is also a correlation between pages per editor and percent of revenue generated by print operations. A possible interpretation is that editors are more productive (they process more pages per year) at more profitable print brands, perhaps because more profitable brands generate more ad pages, and to support those ad pages, more editorial pages are needed. Thus, editorial staff at profitable print brands are more productive than those at unprofitable brands. For brands reporting higher than 25 percent print margins (on the brand level), the median editorial productivity metric reached 200 pages per editor per year. For brands reporting negative profitability, the median was 78 pages per editor per year. Of course, the more likely causal arrow points in the direction of increased ad pages leading to increased productivity as more work piles up, not that increasing editorial productivity drives higher profits.

Note: An “editor” is a staff member listed as compensated through the editorial line, as opposed to sales, marketing, general admin, etc. Thus, “editors” includes designers, copy editors, writers, graphic artists, managers, etc.

By Michael Moran Alterio

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3 comments

  1. Howard Rauch

    The following is a comment from Howard Rauch, president of Editorial Solutions, submitted via email:

    The performance yardstick of editorial pages produced per year per editor, while widely used, is far from the most accurate productivity measurement. The first cloudy issue arises when the calculation is arrived at by dividing total number of editorial staff members into total editorial pages per year. Perhaps this gives you an average of 200 pages per editor. But that’s slightly off because in many cases, especially where tech publications are concerned, considerable content is delivered by industry experts and/or authoritative freelance writers. So if you wish to zero in on true editorial performance, you must redefine exactly what aspect of the total job is up for review. The system I used for years as a VP editorial and more recently as a consultant begins by defining six standard print media job components: (1) original writing; (2) editing the work of others; (3) production; (4) travel; (5) article recruitment; (6) administrative duties. The ideal starting point is assessment of category (1). Add total number of days devoted to original writing. Then divide into total number of published pages for the period in question. If you were checking average monthly performance, you might find your chief editor delivering five to ten pages per issue. Conceivably, that could be a lower average than other staff members. There is nothing wrong with that. Where smaller magazines with staffs of to or three editors, the average differential between chief editor and staff may be narrower. Returning to the 200 pages per editor yardstick, let’s now assume that a publication’s average editorial budget is 40 pages. Further, for this exercise, you have three full-time staff members. If each editor actually generated 200 pages per month, you’d have obvious overproduction. Meanwhile, the above discussion does not account for online media content delivery. Factoring in that reality probably would paint a clear picture of job overload and a resultant downturn in editorial quality Those shortfalls are readily acknowledged by many sources I’ve interviewed during various projects.

    -Howard Rauch
    howard@editsol.com

  2. malterio

    Howard, great comment, thanks! Let me readily admit that my metric used here (edit pages produced annually by an editorial staffer) is a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel, and your ideas are surely a better way to get a handle on what content creators are actually doing with their work days. I’m extracting data here from a much larger survey of media company operations and finances — and research designed to get at editorial productivity specifically would be able to ask the more exacting questions needed to analyze the areas you mention.
    My research does show that print edit pages per editor goes down the more a brand also derives revenue online, presumably because editors are working on Web pages as well as print pages. As you say, for a staff that does not grow in numbers, you have your choice of (1) editorial quality, (1) a very high print pages per editor metric, or (3) increasing online production; Pick Two.

  3. Tom

    I think the question is (should be) more – Is revenue and profitability of a brand (all channels) directly tied to content assets produced per editorial resource (or per $ of editorial spend)? If there is a measurable correlation that can prove causality, then it becomes actionable. Otherwise, the data is just an interesting mental-metric exercise.

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