July 16, 2010

Are editors necessary?


One of the mantras of the DIY and cost-cutting forces assaulting publishing these days is that editors are “an unnecessary step in the content process,” observes ibm.com editor in chief James Matthewson in this commentary on Digital Book World. “All they do is make it hard to publish what we want to publish on the Web. I’ve heard it many a time; a few times from a person pointing the finger squarely in my direction…. Somehow editors are viewed as an extra cog in the machinery.”

So …

… we at IBM conducted a study to demonstrate their value for some of our marketing pages. We took a sample of unedited pages with high traffic from across our various business units and ran them through Dave Harlan, the editing lead for the group that creates a lot of our marketing content. We then ran an A/B test, where we served the unedited versions to a random sample of users and the edited versions to the rest of the users. We then measured engagement (defined as clicks to desired links on the page) on those pages over the course of a month.

The results were astonishing.

The mean difference in engagement was 30 percent across the set of pages. And the standard deviation was one percent–we got a 30 percent improvement on the desired call to action for the pages across the board.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives