Choosing a CMS for a magazine publisher

Arguably, choosing a CMS (Content Management System) for a magazine publisher can be one of the single most painful things you’ll do. Then of course, is the design and implementation phase and after that the launch, tweaks, bug fixes and oh…anyway. Here’s some of our key thoughts on choosing the right CMS for your magazine. We’re also assuming that your publication is both print and digital.
Key considerations for the digital world of 2019
While a lot of consultants and pundits will pound tables and scream and yell that you first have to consider “mobile” they are, we believe, wrong. There are two primary considerations for a CMS and they are;
  1. Your audience. If a CMS today doesn’t have built-in responsive design capabilities (i.e. mobile) then it isn’t worth being called a CMS. So first, consider your audience and the nature of the content your delivering. Are you heavy on text, video or imagery? What is the demographic? Are you producing long or short form content or a mix? Does print content eventually go on the website? Are you trying to leverage evergreen content?
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  2. Your people. That is, your writers, editors, designers and DevOps people. They’re going to spend an awful lot of time working with that CMS. That means considering workflow integrations, what other productivity tools they use (e.g. Trello, Slack etc.) and what other channels/apps the CMS may connect to (e.g. Google Analytics, SEO tools etc.)
Consider these first. A CMS that takes a long learning curve to get comfortable with, like Joomla or Drupal means a long initial training time and re-training every time you bring on new team members. This is a soft cost, but it can get rather expensive over time. The easier you make the workflow for your staff, the more they can get done. Frustrating their productivity is going to cost you. Dearly.
Open or Closed CMS
There are what are known as “open” and “closed” CMS solutions. An open solution for example, is WordPress, Joomla, ExpressionEngine. Closed solutions are those created by a specific company. You will need to work within what their CMS does…if they go out of business, you’re in for some serious headaches and huge costs. A closed CMS is a high risk, not just if they go out of business, but if they stop innovating. We most often recommend open-source solutions, but sometimes, we recommend closed solutions for enterprise publishers.
Business strategy
This is often overlooked, but becomes an issue later on. Always. So let’s bring this up front. While advertising is often the first consideration for revenue, it shouldn’t be your only one. We don’t believe in programmatic for the most part (see here as to why) but you need to look beyond advertising. Are you going to link to products on Amazon or another affiliate program? Are you selling branded products or will you? Are you partnering with complimentary publishers? Offering branded landing pages and digital custom magazines? Understand your business strategy overall and then your revenue strategy for the digital aspect of your publication.
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Ongoing management
You also need to consider who’s running your website? The size and capability of your team, planned growth and the business strategy. Implementing a custom or closed CMS means relying on a vendor to meet the terms of the agreement for technical support and how much poking under the hood they allow your technical team. An open CMS like WordPress has thousands of options to find support and all kinds of new tools and widgets available. Yes, it may mean a little more work at certain points, but there’s less risk as well when your vendor goes out of business. You’ll also need to consider where the site is hosted, their security and uptime guarantees and SLA (Service Level Agreement.)
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Security
If you don’t think your site is going to get hacked you’re playing Russian roulette with 5 bullets in the chamber. Good luck. There is NO perfect CMS, absolutely none. And if a CMS provider says they’re bullet proof, walk away. If Apple, Google and Facebook can get hacked, what makes you think a company that earns a mere fraction of what they do is so secure? Exactly. If you’re a media company today, you are a target. Fact. Since 2016 we’ve helped over 50 publishers deal with data breaches.
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Finally
Bring together your design team, web team, sales and marketing people. Explore the different solutions. Set out a plan at the beginning to deal with the business, audience and production aspects. Be open minded. Consider both your audience and your employees. Both are critical. One will be spending 40+ hours a week behind the scenes, the other will be coming and going, but you want them to come back. It’s a balancing act that also needs to include revenue. If you’re digital properties aren’t generating revenue then they’re non-profits and should be getting charity tax deductions. Are you a charity or a business?

About the Author Giles W. Crouch

Giles Crouch is a design anthropologist and CDO/CIO. He spent over 20 years in globally-focussed marketing communications for technology products and services, but his roots are anthropology in a modern sense. He uniquely ties his deep knowledge of technology, marketing, design thinking and design anthropology as a polymath to help clients seeking digital advantage in today’s complex world. Giles has been regularly interviewed by international news media on topics such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence and it’s impacts on society. He is a passionate practitioner of design thinking and anthropology. Giles is prolific writer and public speaker, lecturer and keynote. He has also completed over 250 netnographic research projects since 2009. His secondary activity is as Group Publisher with Human Media Inc.

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