The Rise of the Web CMS
Open Source or Proprietary, Web-based solutions are today’s best bet.
EVERYBODY’S GOT SOME form of content management system these days for multichannel publishing. Some are old legacy systems that work in tandem with new digital workflows. Others are made-to-order proprietary systems that incorporate all the bells and whistles of the latest technologies, and others are pulled off the Web using various open-source technologies. What’s different in today’s economy is the rise of Web content management systems over enterprise solutions.
“In this economy we’re not seeing a whole lot of companies go out there and get a big enterprise content management system,” says Joseph Bachana, president and founder of Database Publishing Consultants Inc. (DPCI), a tech services provider (and a Drupal advocate). “I’m seeing them look for a good strategic spend on a solid Web content management system that integrates with a publisher’s current workflow systems in place.”
Bachana’s firm recently built a bridge for Time Out New York so people working with the edit system could use its K4 publishing system with Drupal as a Web CMS in real-time.
There are plenty of solutions available at different price points and with different features and functions. It all comes down to what you want to accomplish.
For a small publisher who wants to take article content, images and video and create an interactive experience for customers online, the open-source systems are fine, Bachana says. “If you’re a small publisher of a local magazine or affinity magazine there’s really nothing you’ll not get out of an open-source product today.”
Battles over open source preferences verge on holy war, and opinions on what’s best vary widely. If you want to get a simple blog up and running fast, WordPress has no equal, says Tom Wolf, senior Web developer for Summit Publishing. “It’s the ‘best’ blogging engine available and while it is technically a CMS and can be extended to do things other than blogging, you will see diminishing returns fairly quickly,” he says. “The more heavily you customize it (in terms of functionality; visually, it’s easy to make WordPress look however you want) the more you’ll find yourself ‘fighting’ with the underlying system.”
According to Wolf, Joomla! is in the middle of the three most popular open-source solutions, which also include WordPress and Drupal. “Designed to be a general publishing CMS, Joomla! is still oriented toward a very specific set of workflows which pre-suppose a lot about the way your site does and doesn’t work,” Wolf says. “It also takes more work to set up and configure than WordPress (for a simple site), but that work pays off very quickly because you gain power and flexibility down the line.”
Drupal is next on the continuum and much more of a CMS programming framework than just a CMS, Wolf says. It’s on par with Joomla! in terms of complexity to set up, but it has more stringent server requirements. “It’s very easy to store arbitrary content in Drupal, not just sets of blog posts or Web pages, and the way the content arrives in Drupal is manipulated and displayed so that it can be controlled at every step,” he says. “Drupal has a very robust set of modules/plugins/add-ons (as do WordPress and Joomla!) which allow you to add tons of functionality with minimal work.”
In 2006, Summit relaunched the sites Packworld.com and Automationworld.com the first time using an open-source CMS (Joomla!). Last year it launched a new Web site called GreenerPackage.com in Drupal and is now in the process of redoing Automationworld.com and Packworld.com in Drupal as well. “Drupal is more of a framework than a CMS, especially compared to Joomla,” says David Newcorn, vice president of e-media, Summit Publishing. “If you have the programming talent, you can make it do pretty much anything a publisher would need to do.”
Summit prefers Drupal for its ease of use and scalability, which Wolf says strikes a nice “sweet spot.” “It’s easy enough to set up and the requirements are such that you can run Drupal in a shared hosting environment (what a consumer might buy for a vanity site, for instance), but it’s robust enough that as your usage increases, you can slowly scale up the hardware behind it and it will stand up to millions of views monthly—all with the exact same codebase and essentially the same configuration,” he says.
TYP03 was one of the first open source CMS options and is used by publishers such as Menswear site Marketplace.com. “It’s very simple to use and we can change edit on the fly,” said publisher Stu Nifoussi. “We’re not spending a lot of time or money going back to our Web partner GCN and asking them to do things because we can do it ourselves.”
With SEO a top priority, publishers are looking for their content management systems to be geared toward user searches using semantics without the search function being overly technical to navigate and to program.
“Web CMS allow you to structure sites based on the way people like to search and based on taxonomy, relevant to the semantics of your business or affinities,” Bachana says. “That’s the point of open source—it allows you to do information architecture relevant to your business and leverage functions out of the box.”
While open-source systems are technically “free” compared to a proprietary software or system, their implementation and support are not. So while a publisher may save on the software cost, they could make up for it in manpower and labor. Publishers also end up paying for any customization to the CMS. “A lot of people look at a CMS like an appliance—a washer or dryer—you put it in and it goes. But it doesn’t work that way,” Bachana says. “A lot of companies take open-source products and try to customize them and all of a sudden they get into all these costs. Lots of hours and then they have to maintain those customizations forever. Once you get into that, it’s a world of pain whether it’s open-source or proprietary. The core challenge of implementing an open-source system today is not having the resources to advance a Web platform.”
Publishing content, authoring and managing and delivering content costs between $30,000 to $100,000, depending on how aggressive you get, Bachana says. If you have an edit workflow and a print workflow using InDesign and InCopy, and you integrate them with Drupal or Joomla, if you already know the information architecture, it could cost between $50,000 and $75,000 for a pretty credible job. Open-source systems don’t have licensing fees; the cost is just for the services. MarkLogic runs between $500,000 and $750,000 per project and an enterprise CMS such as Documentum or Nstein costs about $1 million, Bachana says, noting that the proprietary costs cover software licensing, software assurance, and services.
Many in this market, especially entrepreneurial publishers, are outsourcing their CMS and workflows to third parties, like their printers. Fry Communications offers what it calls ‘Cloud Publisher Services’—editorial and production workflows that publishers can tap into for a fixed fee based on ‘Software as a Service’ solution.
The Proprietary Solution
Hanley Wood took a different route when it overhauled its CMS, choosing a commercial Web CMS, SDL-Tridion, because the platform could cost-effectively scale across multiple sites.
“It’s important to easily share content across our portfolio of sites and automatically construct and publish content pages,” says executive director of e-media Andreas Schmidt. “The system allows us the flexibility of building individual components and easily configuring components to create new or rearrange existing page layouts. The production environment is fairly intuitive, which allows a larger user pool to publish content and improve time to market.”
Hanley Wood also worked with DPCI to integrate its workflows. DPCI helped implement K4 publishing system for Hanley Wood as well as built a gateway to automatically publish articles and images from the K4 editorial system over to Tridion.
Next up, Hanley Wood is looking to expand the integration of multimedia components and the deeper integration of related content for improved engagement, according to Schmidt. “Each piece of content is tagged within a highly structured taxonomy, which enables quick and flexible contextual content integration.”
Hanley Wood would not comment on the investment cost of its proprietary CMS but Schmidt believes they’ve “seen a good pay-back for its investment.”
No matter which route a publisher chooses for its CMS, technology is always changing and users have to change with it. As technology moves, people have to invest in new hardware, new systems and the costs begin to mount,” says Rob Brai, co-founder of Superior Media Solutions (SMS), a production services company. “Today, when you buy software, you have to buy a maintenance agreement to get upgrades and ongoing costs are incurred just to keep systems going.”
Though FOLIO:’s recent survey on manufacturing and production trends showed that less than a quarter of the industry used an XML workflow in 2009, many believe that this is where the industry is heading. “Any time you’re considering assets and content management services, an XML work flow and proper tagging at the onset is critically important,” Grande says. “It becomes the common denominator for all forms of data. I think XML will grow exponentially now that we’re looking at mobile devices and the iPad.”
Sina Adibi, CTO of SMS, adds that once content is in the XML format, you can “layer on capabilities and enrich that content. You can make it a living object that keeps evolving over time vs. a PDF that was manufactured and is very static and you have to go upstream to modify it.”
Another benefit of the XML workflow is the ability to archive and retrieve data much easier than looking for content stored in a Word document or InDesign file, says Brai. “Once content is in the XML format, you can query on that content much more easily than you can query on content embedded in a Word doc or PDF.”
There are some challenges with XML too. “The biggest challenge for managing XML is the creation of a process that fits logically into the overall content creation framework,” says Peter Meirs, vice president of production technologies at Time Inc., which uses an XML workflow that involves the conversion of every published Time Inc. magazine article to its PRISM metadata standard. “We have centralized our XML creation process to ensure consistency of element tagging, the application of taxonomy terms and entity identification across all Time Inc. titles.”
The converted articles are used in feeds to content aggregators, syndication partners and to its Web sites. The XML files are ‘output format neutral’ so magazine and original Web content can be easily transformed for presentation on platforms such as e-books and other devices, Meirs says.
Digital Asset Management
Today, most publishers have a separate CMS and digital asset management system.
“A number of proprietary systems out there don’t really have digital asset management,” says Bachana, noting that a lot of these companies bought digital asset management companies to provide an integrated solution. “There are a few niche players in the marketplace that have a fully integrated solution into digital asset management product, but at the end of the day, digital asset management is separate.”
Some open-source systems will also have light DAM functionality, he notes. But over the next two years, there will be a deeper integration of open-source Web CMS and digital asset management. Open-source DAM is maturing more slowly than Web CMS as those move very rapidly because of high return on investment, Bachana says.
“A game changer in the DAM space is that open-source products will mature and be integrated more tightly with open-source CMS, and that’s encroaching upon the proprietary systems,” he adds.