ALM, the legal information successor to American Lawyer Media, recently announced that it was eliminating 35 positions in its production and editorial departments. The press release cites a desire to create "a more nimble and productive editorial team."
The reductions amounted to about 4% of the total staff and a reported 7% of the production and editorial staff. There isn't enough information in the release to understand whether the cuts are strategic – a realignment of divisions, for example – or simply an effort to reduce the run rate on expenses.
The coverage, written by Bill Mickey of Folio:, prompted a lament by industry observer Bob Sacks:
I might be off base here, but for an industry that lives and dies on the written word, I have never [understood] the long standing emphasis of continued layoffs of writers, editors and reporters over the last few decades. I agree that production jobs have so radically changed that they being part of the layoff scheme make perfect sense to me.
A bit of math might make Sacks feel better. According to Mickey, ALM has about 800 staff. If 35 of them represent 7% of the two affected departments, that implies about 500 (35/0.07) work in editorial and production. A publishing company that dedicates more than 60% of its staff to content development, management and dissemination is heavily invested.
Sacks goes on to ask, "What is our business anyway? Don't we actually sell words?"
Therein lies the problem. We don't actually sell words.
A company like ALM sells solutions. In most cases, those solutions involve words, but the client measures are things like reduced time, improved understanding and superior preparation. This is the outcome argument embedded in "Disaggregating supply", posted in April.
Sacks is right to expect publishers to invest in content, but it's not simply about more or better words. It's about better solutions, and that's an evaluation made by the reader and end user.