At a time when most of the content from magazine publishers can be accessed with the click of mouse, the need to manage that content is all the more important. “With the wave of information going online and the number of readers going online now, publishers need to monetize the Web,” says Paul Harris, vice president of marketing for content management systems provider Saxotech, which counts Crain Communications among its publishing customers. “In order to effectively monetize their Web sites, publishers need the underlying technology to centralize and standardize their content in the same way, in a common database and a common workflow.”

Another supplier, Managing Editor Inc., markets the K4 content management system used by Conde Nast and Hearst, as well as a number of individual magazines such as Playboy, TimeOut NY and TimeOut Chicago, PC World, Computerworld and Atlantic Monthly. “Content management refers to the use of a database-driven system to facilitate sharing and collaboration during the process of creating publications or Web sites,” explains Mark Walter, director of business development at Managing Editor.

A content management system used by layout-intensive publications like magazines, Walter says, increases productivity and efficiency because of the ability to collaborate “inside” the layout. “It provides workflow and content management in the context of the desktop tools;like Adobe InDesign, InCopy and Microsoft Word,” he says. “Products should let multiple people collaborate at once (on the same article). At deadline, for example, an artist can be touching up a photo at the same time that a copyeditor is editing a story to fit, while the art director is tweaking the page layout that contains both the photo and the article text. As soon as the art director saves changes to the layout, the copyeditor immediately sees the changes, and her layout box updates with the new geometry, so that she is editing to fit exactly against the layout that the art director has open in InDesign.”

Coordinating Print and Online
With 16 branded magazines, numerous Web sites, mobile sites and custom publishing offerings, the U.S. division of Hachette-Filipacchi took content management a step further and not only studied how to best manage the content on its Web sites, but also how to manage the flow of content between its print publications and digital offerings. The company has spent the past two years identifying and selecting both a content management and a digital asset management system to meet its needs. Where the CMS controls Web content, the asset management system standardizes content across all of the company’s products, says Philippe Guelton, Hachette’s chief operating officer.

Once fully implemented, the system will allow Hachette to protect its content and use it more efficiently. “This is key because attached to it is a rights-management system that allows us to track the copyrights on all of our content,” says Guelton. “It will also be integrated with our editorial production systems. In that regard, it is the cornerstone of the multiplatform brand strategy because it will allow us to produce multiple outputs all centered around our brand production. And the CMS helps us leverage and produce that content most efficiently.”

At Time Inc., the content management system was integrated in pieces over time. “It is a system where all the pieces play well together,” says Paul Zazzera, senior vice president and chief information officer. “We have more of a mix of various systems. Some of the systems are designed for our bigger Web and magazine titles. And some are for our smaller publications. In putting together a digital asset management system, we wanted to keep it simple so that the small publications would get the same benefits, without all of the complexity that the bigger publications often have to manage.”

Managing Costs and ROI
Although Time Inc. has spent millions of dollars enacting a content management system across all its publications and branded products, a smaller publisher or single title can get there by spending much less, says Managing Editor’s Walter. “Our least expensive product costs about $25,000 and a lot of publications get by on just that,” he says. “It depends on the scale of the project.”

Overall, says Zazzera, Time Inc. tries to keep its CMS simple. “Because our workers are as mobile as our content is, we want to keep it friendly to both people who work within the company and the freelancers we sometimes use,” he says. “We’ve tried to focus on the content itself and how we produce it.” Zazzera says the ultimate goal was to have a seamless flow between reporters, editors and design professionals, as well as between the company’s print, online and mobile offerings.

“Another trend that content management addresses is the shift toward a geographically distributed workforce,” says Walter. “Through the use of the Internet-enabled database, instead of a local file system, editorial and production teams can comprise contributors who are anywhere around the globe. Staff can log into the system from home or on the road and work as if they were at their desk in the office.”

Guelton says investing in a comprehensive CMS and asset management system will guarantee the company the best ROI in the future. “We feel we’ve done this at the right time at the right costs,” he says. “It’s a significant investment, but it’s an important step in our overall strategic plan. We’ve been investing in our own products and brands for some time now and we see value in investing to protect our content. We see clear ROI in the years ahead.”

Content management also allows publishers to organize all of their different assets, whether it’s print or online, on a common platform across its entire enterprise, Harris says. “It helps the publisher efficiently serve the content to the audience,” he says. “The idea of integration between properties is key because you don’t want to have to rewrite stories or cut and paste them. You want your reporters and editors to write one story and be able to post it on multiple platforms effortlessly so they can concentrate on what they do best, writing.”

The brand and the content are at the core of the decision-making process when selecting a content management provider, says Guelton.

“Even though you’re working on different platforms such as Web, mobile and print, you can still share a lot of synergy,” he says. “With Elle, as we shoot our cover every month, we shoot behind the scenes video of us shooting the cover and how we leverage that on our mobile and Web platforms is part of content management. We do the same thing with Car and Driver, when we do our test rides. It’s the same subjects, the same time and the same people, we’re just using it in different way.”

The Learning Curve
Though its new content management systems will make life for employees of Hachette easier in the long run, learning the new systems will involve training and trial and error, Guelton says. “Obviously this is going to affect a big part of the way people are going to work,” he says. “Editorial will go through training and adapt to the new system. And I think everybody realizes that this is the wave of the future and that they’re fortunate to be part of the first generation. So for some it will be a subtle change and for some a critical change. Overall, everyone will feel the impact. But I think everyone also sees the benefits in that this will help them leverage what they do.”

The good news, says Zazzera, is that as people become more computer literate, they require less training. “With each step the technology becomes easier and people become smarter,” he says. “Everyone’s computer literate, so we’re beyond the early days where we’d say here’s what a computer is and this is what you do with it. We’re at a point we’re most of our senior and junior-level employees are familiar with the technology, so it’s really a matter of just training them on a new program.”

One of the direct benefits, Guelton says, is that more employees will be involved in the company’s online and mobile efforts. “We will be having more content produced by our junior editors because we can leverage that content so that what doesn’t fit in our print products can be used online or on our mobile sites,” he adds. “And it also helps with the traditional process of print. It will mean better closings of the magazine, a more efficient workflow of content and new editorial and digital processes.”

About Content Management Systems

What they do: A CMS is a database-driven system used to facilitate sharing and collaboration during the process of creating publications or Web sites. It allows the same content to be published across multiple channels in a single program, eliminating the hassle of cutting-and-pasting and additional steps.

Why publishers need them: “It helps them be more efficient, which increases profitability,” says Mark Walter, director of business development at Managing Editor. “Through the use of version control and sharing of content, it helps reduce errors. It extends the deadline, which helps the team make a better product.”

Cost: Ranges from five figures to million-dollar figures, depending on the size and scope of the company and the project.