Content Management Systems: could Vox Media make build a software business alongside its content operation?

Vox Media is trying to make money through licensing its publishing platform Chorus. A smart move from Vox - but is adopting it a smart move for publishers?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I had an odd moment last week — I discovered that a recommendation I made to a company many years ago, which was both rejected and actively mocked by the site architects, has now been implemented. And the alternative path they took cost them millions and five years, with very little to show for it.

I'm still not sure if I feel vindicated or embarrassed that I wasn't able to make my case more convincingly.

Content Management Systems are critical to how publishing businesses operate - and most of them are terrible. Very few places manage to put tech in place that their employees like and enjoy using. Indeed, for years it used to be a running joke that if you put two digital journalists in a pub for more than 20 minutes, they'd soon be complaining about CMSes.

That context makes this move very interesting:

Digital publisher Vox Media is trying out a new money-making strategy: Selling the software that it uses to produce stories.

The company is beginning to license Chorus, the technology that underpins the portfolio of sites it owns and operates, including The Verge, Vox and Recode.

Clearly, any move to diversify revenue streams for a digital media publisher is to be applauded. The last few months have been a brutal lesson in not relying on a single source of income for your business, as the corpses of the Facebook-dependent publishers make amply clear. And if the publisher has invested in the underlying technology, it makes sense to maximise the return from that investment.

The Washington Post has been doing something very similar with its Arc CMS for the last few years.

Asking smart questions about CMSes

That said, they're looking for publishers who can pay in the six to seven figures for use of that platform - which is not a huge group. And, as has been my mantra for a decade now, as a publisher to have to be really, really sure that a big investment in technology is going to bring actual returns to the business. Is what Chorus offers really that far ahead of say, WordPress or Ghost? And, if so, does that added functionality actually make a palpable difference to your ability to make money from the content?

These are good, basic questions that too often get lost in the project-by-committee approach of acquiring a new CMS for a big publisher. In all likelihood, that means that Vox Media will find a ready market for Chorus - the only question is how smart that market will be.

This quote did make me laugh, though:

“We’re not providing blogging software here,” Mr. Bankoff said. “This is different. We’re providing a suite of enterprise-grade services that combine to create a large platform for brands that need strong tools to manage everything from content creation to monetization.”

That was pretty much the exact reason that the site architect gave me all those years ago for not going the WordPress route. That argument did not work out well, did it?

Ghosting publishers via e-mail

I found this story via the Ghost newsletter for publishers. It's a useful weekly round-up of business model and publishing tech links, that I recommend subscribing too, if you are interested in those things. Ghost is the CMS I now use to run this site.

publishing technologyvox mediawashington postcmsbusiness modelstechnology strategy

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.