Copyediting? Ship the Work Out to India

Not far from New Delhi, Mindworks now has eight overseas clients, and it's mounting a big effort to go after more U.S. publications

In a squat, gray building in Noida, a leading outsourcing destination 15 miles from New Delhi, is the headquarters of Mindworks Global Media. Here, 90 young men and women peer into their computers, editing copy, designing and laying out pages, and even reporting over the phone. Mindworks isn't a new publication. It's a company to which media groups in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.—including the Miami Herald and South China Morning Post—outsource work that journalists and copyeditors usually do. The Mindworks staff works two to three shifts a day, seven days a week. Tony Joseph, 46, an editor-turned-entrepreneur, is Mindworks' founder and chief executive. He sometimes drops by at 6 a.m. to see his employees, just when U.S. clients are putting their papers to bed.

Mindworks has been handling outsourcing assignments from non-Indian publishers for four years. It expects plenty more business as the cost-cutting in U.S. and European print media grinds on. Some Western publishers do their outsourcing in-house—Thomson Reuters (TRI), for instance, has moved basic Wall Street reporting on U.S., European, and Gulf equities to a new bureau in Bangalore. But other media companies prefer to outsource to the Indians directly. On June 24, Mindworks made global headlines when the Associated Press reported that the company had taken on copyediting and layout work for a couple of publications owned by the California media publishing group Orange County Register Communications.

Mindworks' Joseph, who was born and bred in Kerala, has spent most of his working career in New Delhi in senior editing positions at such leading India papers and magazines as Economic Times, Business Standard, and BusinessWorld. Now he lives in New York to be close to his clients and travels to India every quarter. He wouldn't divulge names or details about his clients, but he says Mindworks has eight from the publishing industry in all. The Orange County Register is the latest. A deputy editor at the Register says that Orange County's outsourcing to Mindworks "will be a one-month trial" for the service of laying out pages for one of its community papers and of copyediting stories for the flagship Register.

Markets in Flux

The U.S. is a new market for Mindworks, which got its first American client last year. "The U.S. is the world's biggest media market, and the business there is changing rapidly," says Joseph. "For us, the greatest opportunity for creativity and growth is in markets where there's a lot of flux and everything is open for reconfiguration." Indeed, U.S. publications have been plagued by declining print readership and advertising as readers keep switching to online media. Outsourcing work to India helps keep publications in business. "It helps them improve efficiencies in editorial packaging and reallocate resources to reporting and writing," Joseph says. Mindworks claims that it helps publications cut costs 35% to 40%.

Mindworks didn't start out with foreign clients. It began locally, publishing magazines for such companies as Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO), India's largest telecom provider.

At the height of the technology outsourcing boom in 2004, Mindworks got an assignment from a British airline magazine. The job: Do a story on this question: If you had 2 million pounds to spare, what's the best seaside property you'd buy in Europe? Sitting 5,900 miles away from London, Joseph and his team made international calls and delivered the article in eight days. It was a one-off job, but it encouraged Joseph to relaunch Mindworks as a global media outsourcing company in 2005. After mulling which aspect of journalism would make the most business sense—writing, reporting, or editing—Joseph concluded that copyediting was where Mindworks could most excel. "Tony's track record in journalism and India's labor arbitrage are a big value-add and cost saver for clients," says Ranjan Kapur, who heads the India arm of Martin Sorrell's WPP Group (WPPGY) and personally was an original angel investor in Mindworks Global.

Mindworks' other investors nudged it to explore the U.S. market. In 2007, Helion Venture Partners, a venture capital fund registered on the island of Mauritius, came aboard, buying out the initial investors—WPP's Kapur and the Kolkata-based media house Ananda Bazar Patrika, owner of BusinessWorld, which Joseph once edited. "We felt that media content outsourcing was underutilized but had great potential,— says Sanjeev Agarwal, managing director of Helion. Agarwal has an excellent record—he founded Daksh, India's most successful business-process outsourcing company. Agarwal made a fortune when Daksh was acquired by IBM (IBM) in 2004.

New U.S. Thrust

Joseph and his editorial team honed their global outsourcing skills on publications from Southeast Asia (South China Morning Post) and the Middle East(Gulf News), for which they edited copy and laid out pages. Mindworks now has a dedicated editorial and design team, ranging from 5 to 15 people, for each of its eight global clients.

The staffer logs into a foreign publication's general desk basket, where the client's raw stories are parked for editing. Each team member is assigned a few stories, which are checked for grammar, style, and accuracy. In case there are inconsistencies or inaccuracies, the copy editor at Mindworks gets in touch with the news editor of the foreign publication. If the team is handling a particular section of the publication like Sports or Lifestyle, then the contact person in the U.S. is the section head. The reporter is never contacted.

Every deal goes through a two-month transition, when the client and the customer try to understand each other's needs. Either the publication's representative comes to India, or a senior Mindworks team member is posted overseas, for a fortnight to a month, to familiarize himself with the client's style requirements and work culture. "It helps minimize errors," says Joseph. Mindworks plans to increase its staff from 100 to 1,500 people by 2013. Joseph has just hired a new head in the U.S. for new business development and plans to build a five-member U.S. operations team to help market Mindworks'services.

Today, Mindworks may have an early-mover advantage in global media outsourcing, but others are bound to follow. Helion's Agarwal says media outsourcing could be a $2 billion opportunity for India. For the past four years, Gurgaon-based Express KCS has been designing restaurant and product ads for a host of Northern California papers, including Contra Costa Times, The Oakland Tribune, The Argus in Fremont, and Tri-Valley Herald. A year ago, Express KCS ventured into copyediting and layout for London's Property News. More media outsourcing business will flow to India—and to Mindworks. "The issue is, how quickly can they scale up?" says Agarwal. Joseph is confident he can stay ahead. "Our processes are not easy to replicate," he says.

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