20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

The cost of developing content (part 5)

The cost of developing content (part 5)

In previous articles, I talked about the costs of creating content in Word, in unstructured Frame or InDesign, the cost reductions in topic-based authoring, and the costs of localization using each tool.

Tools are not free

Moving to new content development tools that support the topic-based authoring paradigm costs money. Even free tools are not free. It costs money to:

  • purchase the tool (often but there are free open source tools)
  • train people
  • change the workflow/processes
  • migrate any legacy content you want to migrate
  • and so on.

And these are typically upfront costs, adding to the initial bottom line. The table below shows you generally the expected cost estimates for our group of 10 writers:

Line item cost (per 10 writers)Unstructured FrameMaker (including the TCS) or Indesign
(new cloud-based
Topic-based toolsEnterprise non-DITA tools
(possibly XML-based)
Purchase $10,000$13,000$30,000
Training (basic training for 7 writers, advanced training for 3)$25,000$25,000$25,000
Redesign/recreate templates$ 5,000$ 5,000$20,000
Convert legacy content (this can be done as needed but up 20,000 pages to start)$35,000$20,000$20,000
Normalize imported content for content reuse$25,000$15,000$15,000
Change workflow inside and outside group$15,000$25,000$25,000
Retrain other groups, such as reviewers$15,000$15,000$15,000

These numbers are not accurate, as I’m not focusing on a specific tool in 2 of the categories, but they are an average of the pricing I could find online for the tools. The non-tools costs are my cost expectations as a former docs manager/current consultant. So while the table is not accurate, it is rational.

Of course, if you move to DITA, it’s probably going to cost more. I don’t typically help clients move to DITA so I’m not including those numbers here. Although if you do and want to write Part 6: DITA, I’m very open to a guest article!

Adding to the above costs are the cost of a consultant, which I strongly recommend you hire. S/he is going to save you money by helping you avoid common mistakes and helping you to understand Best Practices and why. Consultants work with many different clients and know what’s working (or a crashing disaster!) with other groups in the world.

Why would you do this

This seems like a lot of money because it is. Worse, it’s all money you’re going to spend in the first 6 months, making your managers have a heart attack. But remember, you’re paying $8 million a year for these 10 writers to create content. You can add 1.5 to 2 more writers (and pay $85k/per writer fully loaded, per year, year after year) or you can work smarter.

But the idea of just getting more content is not always the argument that your management will like. You have to go for the business issues that show the pain. I have a webinar recording that might be interesting to you – the first 30 minutes or so covers discovering your pain and about talking to management about it. Another video talks about how to make the business case and provides pointers to help you.

Common pain points

What pain points do my clients typically have? Some or all of these issues (in no particular order) and all of them can have a dollar amount attached to them:

  • No standardization between any content a single writer creates, much less across content, even with the same writer.
  • Other writers may not (and typically do not) know what content other writers create.
  • No content reuse, except for cut and paste, which, while technically meeting the definition of content reuse, is not actually content reuse.
  • Localizing into more than 2 languages
  • Regulated industries with regulations changing quarterly and or annually so existing content needs to be updated to match the changed regulations.
  • No style guide determining language or page layout, with the exceptions of basic branding and margins on the pages.
  • Writers spending 20% or more of their time making the pages look “good” and “interesting” to the users.
  • Content silos within silos within silos.
  • People using the content are shifting to tablets and other mobile devices in the coming year or 2.

Coming to a website near you

We’re putting the finishing touches on the web-based widget that will let you use the calculations I’ve been using but lets you put in some of your own numbers. We’re hoping to have it out as beta in the next week or two. We’re figuring out the best way to visually show the data to help you make comparisons.

We’re going to be very transparent about how numbers are calculated. I’m not saying these will reflect your numbers accurately, but you will be able to see what your numbers are for each tools level with your specific number of writers. You will be able to compare what is possible with your group in Word, for example, and what would be possible if you moved to a topic-based authoring tool.

Stay tuned!

Part 6

By Sharon Burton

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this great summary! The problem is that the customer may not be willing to maintain the right procceses and the knowledge within the team, and may decide to cut the costs by hiring undequalified people to do the maintenance. They believe that “it’s all set up and working” and it costs nothing to ” just brush it up once in a while”. I’ve seen quite a bunch of companies that went along that path after the documentation team leader left the company. So knowledge transfer is crucial here.


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  4. The Cost of Developing Content (Part 6) | Sharon Burton - […] topic-based authoring, and the costs of localization using each tool. I’ve also covered the costs of purchasing and implementing these […]

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