The Society of Indexers

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Survey of publishers: January 2000

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Report on questionnaire returns from publishers — January 2000

The stated objectives of the questionnaire sent to publishers were to enable us learn more about how the industry functions and to find out how we, as indexers, can work more profitably and more closely with it to our mutual advantage.

The number of questionnaires sent out was 207 and of these 74 were returned on or about the date requested: a return rate of 36%. The general impression one gets from reading these completed returns is that those who responded had taken care over the task. Almost all the sheets were complete although there were obviously some respondents who misunderstood what was required. Perhaps some of the questions were too diffuse or too difficult to respond to.

It was requested that the forms should be completed by people directly involved in commissioning indexes and one notable fact was the enormous variety of titles used by those who returned the questionnaires. This suggests that there exists a similar variety of structures in publishing firms and underlines the complexity of the publishing business. Perhaps we, as indexers, need to know more about this in order to understand publishers' problems better.

Q1. How many items are you responsible for seeing through to publication annually?
Q2. Is any indexing done in-house?

These representatives from 74 different firms between them dealt with 3921 publications annually. There were wide variations, because the firms differed greatly in size, but the mean number was 54. Only a small number of firms (9) use in-house indexing. Consequently, most indexes are commissioned: 24 claimed that up to a quarter were sent outside, 36 said half or more than a half while 5 claimed that all indexes were commissioned. Six respondents did not answer this question.

Q3. For approximately what proportion of ... items did you commission indexes from outside your organisation?
Q4. At what stage in production is such commissioning usually done?

Question 4 asked when commissioning was done and this gave rise to a variety of responses e.g. at page proof (21): at proofs (13): at 1st proofs (13): at final proofs (3): at pre-proofs (7): 2nd proofs (3): others included revised proofs, copy editing: 3rd proofs: pre-manuscript. It would appear that there are no common or standard procedures and this, once again, reflects the diversity of the organisations in the sample and their ways of working.

Q4. At what stage in production is such commissioning usually done
Q5. Is the author normally involved?

Nearly one third of the sample reported that the author was not involved at all in the commissioning process. A similar proportion said their involvement was early in the process and the rest said that it was later.

Q6. How do you choose an indexer?

Question 6 asked how indexers were chosen. Fifty two publishers (70%) mentioned having a pool of indexers from which they draw people; 23 (31%) mentioned using Indexers Available (sometimes at the same time as having a pool); 5 mentioned recommendation but not from whom; others were much more vague, putting 'experience' but whether their own or that of the indexer was not clear.

Q7. Is it important to you that the indexer is a member of the Society of Indexers?
Q8. Have you a copy of Indexers Available for 1999?
Q9. Do you know the difference between Registered Indexers, Accredited Indexers and others in the Society of Indexers?
Q10. Do your publications acknowledge the indexer by name?

In line with the previous question, 44 (59%) stated that it was important to them that an indexer was a member of the Society of Indexers. Forty nine publishers (66%) were in possession of a current copy of Indexers Available but only 29 (39%) knew the difference between Registered Indexers, Accredited Indexers and others in the Society. Only 11 (15%) said that they acknowledged the indexer by name so the intention of the Society to recommend this practice does not appear to have had much effect so far. How many of us ask that this be done? All of those who said that they were without a current copy of Indexers Available were sent one.

Q11. How do you calculate the space allocated to the index?

Question 11 which asked how space was allocated to the index had the vaguest set of responses such as, 'It depends' from 22 (30%). A large proportion were mainly concerned with fitting into 16 page sections. Some admitted to inspired guesswork and six said that they had no space restrictions.

Q12. Who pays for the index?

Question 12 asked who pays for the index? Thirty eight (51%) said the publisher, 19 (26%) the author and the rest said that it was shared. It is felt, in retrospect, that this question may have been somewhat ambiguous because no distinction was made between cost being borne by the publisher and such payment being later deducted from royalties.

Q13. Do you evaluate finished indexes?
Q14. a) Do you normally expect to alter an index, beyond copy editing?
b) If so, would you involve the indexer?
Q15. Have you received any training in editing indexes?
Q16. Would the index figure in your promotional exercise?

In answer to question 13, 'Do you evaluate finished indexes?' 60 (81%) said 'yes'. The same number confirmed that they altered indexes and 25 said that they would involve the indexer in this. However, 50 admitted that they had had no training in editing indexes. Only 17 (23%) said that the index figured in their promotional exercise.

Q17. How satisfactory, in your view, is the relationship between you and your indexers at the moment?
Q18. How do you think this might be improved?

Fifty one publishers (69%) reported that their relationships with indexers were very satisfactory and the rest reasonably so. The question, 'How might relationships be improved?' produced a great variety of responses. Three commented that more indexers, especially good ones, were needed whilst two suggested that indexers should be better paid. One said 'impossible to improve'. Four commented on the need for better communication and two on the importance of personal contact. Two mentioned the need for better planning without saying on whose part and three said, 'needs training' but again did not say for whom. Other comments, each appearing only once, included, 'indexers to listen', 'would like to know more about indexing programmes' and 'less demanding indexers!'. These rather enigmatic comments present some problems in interpretation.

Q19. Is your organisation a corporate member of the Society of Indexers?
Q20. Would you like to have information about corporate membership?

Eight organisations were corporate members of the Society of Indexers and 61 were not. Two respondents did not know. Seventeen expressed a wish to know more about corporate membership and all of these were sent information packs.

Q21. Would you be interested in participating in
a) a course for publishers on familiarisation with indexes and indexing?
b) discussion between publishers and indexers on problems of indexing materials produced electronically?

Thirty one people said that they would be interested in a course for publishers on familiarisation with indexes and indexing and 36 were in favour of holding a discussion session between publishers and indexers on problems of indexing materials produced electronically.

These returns have provided us with some interesting and valuable information. The survey is now open for comments and suggestions about how best to use the findings.

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