Thursday, July 29, 2010

The case for editors and editing, in case one
needs to be made

I've just come across an article, written originally for the blog Writing for Digital and reprinted by Digital Book World, in which James Mathewson, editor in chief of shows pretty conclusively the value of good editors, in this case working on online marketing materials.
Matthewson says that editors are sometimes seen as an extra, and unnecessary, step getting in the way of publishing on the web, but an experiment demonstrated editors' value. The same sample of pages from various business unites were delivered to two, random groups of end users in edited and unedited form. Then the company measured "engagement" which it defined as clicks on the desired links on the page over the course of a month. The result? A 30% improvement from the edited pages.
Now it was just one test and it needs to be replicated before we draw strong conclusions. Your mileage may vary depending on the quality of your editors... But we can provisionally conclude that well edited pages do 30 percent better than unedited pages.What would 30 percent better engagement do to your bottom line? I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions about how 30 percent better engagement might affect your business. But let’s put an end to all the talk about editors being unnecessary.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The articles 'do' better? 'Engagement'?

More eyeballs = quality? Maybe these editors just know how to adapt copy to fit their publishers' agenda. It's not exactly unheard of.

I know full well the value of a good editor, although these are increasingly rare. But the outcomes cited in this post may have nothing at all to do with quality, and a whole lot to do with advertising.

10:15 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Most magazines, much of the time, concern themselves with advertising, and apparently even more so in the fuzzier world of web publishing. This experiment may be about promotion and advertising content, but the point was that mediated copy by a skilled editor makes a difference. We have damned few examples we can point to in a "pure" editorial environment. If you know of any that would prove the point without mentioning eyeballs or engagement (and what's wrong with that word?) by all means let us know.

10:24 am  
Blogger Adam Gorley said...

Was this post a test for copy editors? 'Cause it could use an edit itself. :)

9:09 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Adam Gorley: Feel free!

10:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This experiment may be about promotion and advertising content, but the point was that mediated copy by a skilled editor makes a difference."

Yes, the study cited shows that it makes a difference -- but in terms of what? The post suggests that the criterium for "quality" is how many readers are drawn to a piece, something that can have very little to do with editorial merit.

It's like saying Madonna is a better composer than Townes Van Zandt because she has sold more records. This study only suggests that an editor can help make a piece more intriguing or palpable to the reader, nothing more. Whether that means the edited piece is of higher quality is certainly not borne out by this study, at least as you've described it in the post.

2:01 pm  
Blogger ML said...

The point is to get people to read. Increased engagement means that the article was edited so that the article triggered desire to engage with the words, rather than move on to something else (that probably had the benefit of a good editor).

The Madonna comparison is a good one. In the end, most magazines hope to get readers--advertisers too but you can't do it without the readers. So selling more copies is more important that the "quality" (but not mutually exclusive)

1:33 pm  

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