By Samantha Cook

As the worldwide publishing industry expands, it too experiences a type of globalisation in the form of magazine syndication. Popular publications like FHM, Cosmopolitan, SHAPE, Glamour, and Playboy, to name a few, are establishing branches in countries all over the world, often using content that originates from their flagship title, or from regional titles. But how do editorial teams deal with syndicated content on a day-to-day basis, and why do they use the content in the first place?

“With 32 international editions and strong ties with a stable of copy agencies across the globe, syndication is routine for us at FHM SA,” says Moolla. “The process is mutually beneficial; additional exposure and income for the writer, and access to a quality piece which might otherwise prove prohibitively too expensive to write in-house.”

As a general rule, the decision to use international content comes directly from the publication’s editorial team, who request the specific material from the relevant syndication office (mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom). The response from the syndication office then determines the rate for the text or images, which can be either free, at a standard rate, or negotiable, depending on whether or not the contributor has an existing contract with the original publisher of the material. Understandably, this is the part of the process where the use of international content can become extremely costly.

Moolla agrees. “Although it is syndicated copy, it is by no means inexpensive and with unfavourable exchange rates, the bill can run upwards of the R10k mark,” he says. “Of course, this is offset to some extent by the syndication of our own pieces.”
In the case where agreements have been made for the use of syndicated copy, the next challenge comes in modifying text to suit local audiences – a process that can become complex and laborious, as there are often restrictions on what the editorial team can alter and cut. If an article requires a significant amount of editing, then permission may also be needed from the contributor.

“Localising the copy can be time-consuming as we tend to use a lot of colloquialisms; localisation can involve something as simple as changing ‘bloke’ to ‘oke’, all the way through to a complete rewrite to suit our audience,” says Moolla. “It is a specialised skill. Anyone can turn the imperial into the metric or adjust a figure of speech but it takes something more to retell a story in a South African voice. There are also rights issues to be waded through – to gain a release from a US or European market may take a few days and increase pressure on the team to meet deadlines.”

Editorial teams also have to be extremely selective in choosing what syndicated content they want to use, Moolla concludes. “We also find that a really well-appointed feature will focus on a foreign celebrity, well-known Stateside or in Europe but of relatively little local interest. We have also got to be constantly aware of our readership profile. We recently ran an interview with newscaster Riaan Cruywagen that didn’t go down well because many of our readers didn’t know who he was.”

As Tracey Melass, editor of SHAPE magazine, told Kerryn Le Cordeur in the latest issue of COUP, content has to resonate with the reader. "The SHAPE reader must recognise the faces looking out at her from the pages of the magazine, plus see the South African identity reflected back at her."

What are your thoughts on syndicated content? Do you appreciate internationally-sourced articles, or do you prefer your articles and images to be home-grown? Share your thoughts on our blog.