The Plight of Using Typesetting Services

The Plight of Using Typesetting Services

Shanu K
Shanu K


I was on a sales call with an academic publisher yesterday — trying to understand their pain points, see how we could help them. During the course of the call, the Chief- Editor said something that I felt was worth addressing in a blog post all its own. Here’s what she said:

“Communicating with typesetting vendors is way too tedious”

To be fair, she manages five journals with a team of volunteers, so there’s a lot that she does herself and every task, no matter how small, adds on to her workload. So, when she said this, I’d have normally taken it as one of her problems. However, here’s the thing: this was not the first time I was hearing it.

I speak to publishers all the time and most, if not all, of them had voiced the same complaint in different ways. “..too many emails..”, “…takes up too much of my time.”, “…and another typo on page 21…” — you get the drift.

Being able to outsource the typesetting of your journal’s articles to a typesetting service has been considered a convenience for years. And it has been a convenience, in a way. But with the pace at which new publishers now need to work to stay in the running against bigger publishers, is outsourced manual typesetting still convenient?

Outsourcing is only half the solution and not a very efficient one at that


Companies outsource for one of two primary reasons:

  • it’s cheaper
  • they don’t have the in-house resources.

Most typesetting work gets outsourced to vendors in India where your manuscript is manually typeset. Costs are pocket-friendly, but still significant for small publishers. You need to communicate with them, generally via long email chains for each article. Also, because the typesetters are not native English speakers, the formatted manuscript is often turned in with typos ( = more emails).

If you outsource locally, communication may be better, but the costs will be higher.

So, outsourcing your journal’s typesetting does take the manuscripts off your hands, but the operational challenges stay. You still have to manage, follow up on deadlines, communicate changes in layout, correspond for corrections… — it’s tough and definitely not efficient.

Unfortunately, because this is how the typesetting process has been for decades now, publishers do not realize how much of a time drain it really is.

Let’s talk a bit more about costs


We recently interviewed Christopher Glass, the Senior editor of Open Journals in Education (OJED), a publisher of six OA academic journals. Their journals are run primarily with the help of volunteers.

However, relying on volunteers meant that the formatted manuscripts generally lacked uniformity and the final output was not very professional. So, they sought out typesetting services to address this challenge. Here’s what he had to say:

“We came across manuscript editing services and XML typesetting services but they were either too expensive or too complicated or both. One vendor quoted us $10,000 per year for XML Typesetting!”

It is true. Outsourced or not, Typesetting is one of the biggest expenditures for small publishers. The overall publishing cost per article for small journals typically ranges from $120 to $180. Just typesetting a submitted article to XML can cost as much as $100.

Then there is the lack of consistency

For those who work with one vendor maintaining consistency is a challenge alright, but for those who work with multiple vendors, this is well nigh impossible. I am talking several man-hours per day spent communicating with and managing the various typesetting services just to ensure one consistent output for your journals.

Of course, the blame for lack of consistency cannot be laid squarely on the shoulders of typesetting services. They would arise even if you were to do the typesetting in-house. Most of these are simple human errors — styling issues, content oversights, formatting mistakes that would creep in no matter what.

Also, they are not truly web-ready


A lot of journals today are digital, unlike earlier when they were published exclusively in print. Yours too?

What this means is that you are very likely to be hoping for visitor traffic online, primarily from search engines. There are many ways to increase online journal readership, but the underlying requirement is to make your manuscripts machine-readable, i.e. convert them to JATS XML. (To learn all about JATS XML, Visit JATS XML: Everything a Publisher Needs to Know)

Almost all typesetting services are old and not equipped to handle conversions to XML. Some do provide XML typesetting, but they are not focussed on adhering to multiple archiving standards. Plus the XMLs they generate are not optimized to help you rank on search engine results.

The needs of publishers have evolved dramatically in the last decade. However, typesetting services have continued to be slow and laborious and are still playing catch up.

Where do we go from here?

To be honest, the very fact that you are reading this post makes you different from other publishers. All publishers face the same problems when dealing with typesetting services, but how many are aware that this way of typesetting is inefficient and needs a solution? Very few.

So, is there an alternative to typesetting services, one that would need way less or no (!!) back and forth? One that would save you all the time you spent managing vendors or waiting for the typeset manuscripts to come back? One that would shave hundreds of dollars off each issue’s production costs and increase readership?

Before you navigate away because what I am saying sounds fantastical, let me tell you that such a solution exists.

SciSpace for Publishers

SciSpace (Formerly Typeset) is a software that takes everything that typesetting services can do and does it better, faster and with 100% accuracy.

It is an automated typesetting solution. Your journal template needs to be encoded into our system once and every subsequent manuscript will be formatted and styled to 100% of your guidelines in seconds. Seconds, literally. We also generate semantically-tagged JATS XML that will help you rank high on search engine results. What’s more, you don’t need an expert or someone with typesetting knowledge to do the conversion — it can be done by a grad student or any of your volunteers.

If this sounds too good to be true, let me do a demo for you. Kind of like a test drive, help you get a feel for how SciSpace looks and works. I will show you how you could be saving thousands (in hours and dollars) each year.

Over 400 publishers have switched from typesetting services to SciSpace in under a year. Schedule a demo to see why.

Interested in learning more about dedicated research solutions? Go to the SciSpace product page to find out how our suite of products can help you simplify your research workflows so you can focus on advancing science.

Literature search in Scispace
Literature search in Scispace

The best-in-class solution is equipped with features such as literature search and discovery, profile management, research writing and formatting, and so much more.

Before you go


If you found the above article interesting, the following blogs might also interest you.

  1. Tools for STM Publishers: Running an Open Access journal on a shoestring budget
  2. How to Increase Journal Readership: The Complete Checklist
  3. How to Start an Open-Access Journal
  4. How to Submit Metadata to Crossref: A Step by Step Guide
  5. PDF to JATS XML Conversion — Why it’s important for an Academic Publisher
  6. Top 5 Reference XML Generation For Academic Publishers