Media companies, especially online pure plays, have often believed they can generate revenue and create better products by developing and licensing their own content management systems (CMS). But the latest to abandon that strategy shows how hard it is to succeed.
Vox Media, arguably one of the most innovative publishers of the past decade, has abandoned its Chorus CMS, which it created as its own platform but also as a product to license to others.
The writing was on the wall at the turn of the year when Vox said it wouldn’t take on new clients and gave existing clients 18 months to find an alternative. Now Vox has said it is moving its own titles of Chorus and move instead to WordPress — widely used by large and small outlets.
Many have gone down the road of believing they could create bespoke CMS — especially in a period when some of the historic vendors to the newspaper and early online operations were clunky, costly, inflexible, and still rooted in a print production mindset. However, the investment and skills needed to develop, quality test, and service technology products are huge and not natively in most media companies that struggle to compete with tech for talent on systems.
“Chorus is an amazing platform. But when the pandemic came, it just became a harder market," Axios quoted Vox Media CEO Bankoff as saying in a comprehensive report on the shift. “It is an entirely different market going out and servicing SaaS [Software as a Service] clients — one that we were succeeding in but one that we said, ‘All right, if we’re going to focus as a company, let’s focus on our audience-based businesses.’”
Axios spun off its own CMS business when it was acquired by Cox Communications last year. The Washington Post has reportedly started to “fork” its own publishing system from the ARC CMS it created and markets to other publishers. Gawker, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and others have all had various types of attempts to create and offer clever CMS platforms.
Rafat Ali, founder of the travel industry site Skift and of old media news site PaidContent, described the shift as the end of an era of media companies trying to dress themselves — seldom successfully — in the clothes of more highly valued technology companies.
In my experience having been involved in CMS choices and development of in-house CMS platforms in many publishers, there is almost always a better off-the-shelf solution to every part of what one has to now think of as the “stack” of technologies that need to be knitted together — from content creation to user verification to subscriptions and indexing, let alone advertising.
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