January 27, 2015

On media company tech

Austin Smith, writing about building your own content management system:

To succeed at building your own platform, you need plenty of cash. Big media companies have access to the kind of capital required to launch a successful custom platform, but startups largely do not. Fusion, the startup-like child of ABC and Univision, is a great example of this. ABC and Univision could bankroll a BuzzFeed-style custom web platform if they wanted to — and have certainly bankrolled a BuzzFeed-style stable of journalism talent — but they opted instead to run WordPress. Likewise, Atlantic Media’s Quartz — which broke ground on reader experience and is often imitated –– picked WordPress.

Great piece. Building your own CMS is all the craze these days, as it always has been. The difference is the amount of money these media tech/tech media startups are raising, and the general notion that you need to build from scratch to enable the media product. While I do think this can be done, and that some publishing platforms really do help then editorial workflow by opening doors to new forms of reporting, and staying out of the way, I also firmly believe that most of the time the end result is expensive crap. There’s no solid reason to bet against open source if you’re building an editorial product, unless your actual business plan is to raise a lot of money by riding the hype. You might succeed with your own CMS (and buckets of VC money), but you could just as well saved a lot of that cash by not building from scratch.

It’ll be moot in the end, when the failures rack up, compared to the success (in terms of raising money at least) of Buzzfeed and Vox Media. Then it’ll be considered wasteful to build a CMS that is essentially a hack, more or less limited by the original idea, when there are way more mature options available for free.

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