The Evolution of Media Company CMS Platforms: The Newspaper Industry

The same content management systems that deliver newspaper content to digital platforms often also have technology to handle the layout, production, and circulation of that content.

Last week in our series on media CMS platforms, we looked at how the broadcast radio industry is following suit in the movement towards an open source future. Today, I’ll dig deeper into the newspaper industry, and how that landscape is changing.

Why proprietary CMS solutions have dominated in the newspaper business

Newspapers differ from their TV and Radio counterparts, because there’s an actual physical media product that needs to be designed, produced, distributed, and sold to consumers. The same CMS platforms that deliver newspaper content to digital platforms often also have technology to handle the layout, production, and circulation of that content. Until very recently, newspapers’ primary revenue source was print, so these CMS systems had to address both digital and print needs.

Advertising revenues for U.S. newspapers are still highly dependent on print. The existing CMS systems that are customized to address the needs of newspapers include EdiosMedia’s Methode, Atex Polopoly, NewsCycle Solutions, and eScenic / CCI Newsgate. Similar to the broadcast radio or television segments of the media industry, newspapers face an increasing complexity of technology integrations needed to deliver a strong digital experience across web and mobile platforms. For instance, one of the biggest types of technology integrations to consider are solutions to deliver paywalls to newspaper digital properties. Indeed paywall offerings are starting to boom: according to PriceWaterHouseCoopers, digital revenue from a wave of subscription offerings reached nearly US$2.5bn in 2014. Still, some industry watchers think newspapers aren’t innovating fast enough. Newsonomics poses the pointed question: “Are local newspapers the taxi cabs of the Uber age?

Other important newspaper digital media integrations include ad serving platforms, customer identity management, video players, social media aggregation tools, analytics solutions, user generated content, and commenting platforms. I recently looked at a vendor list from a newspaper company I’m working with and noted over 30 technology vendors they’re utilizing simultaneously to build and deliver their digital experiences.

Newspaper CMS Consolidation Begins

Newspaper companies are often locked into their proprietary vendors because of their reliability in terms of design, production, and print distribution. Much like we’ve seen in television and radio, however, the current crop of CMS solutions will have a hard time keeping up with the growing digital requirements of newspaper companies. The emphasis on digital has put some pressure on these vendors to maintain the right level of feature development, and as such, it’s causing consolidation in the world of newspaper oriented CMS solutions. One example of this is NewsCycle Solutions, the result of the merger of two newspaper oriented CMS platforms, SaxoTech and DTI. Another example is CCI Newsgate and Escenic. CCI Newsgate is a CMS solution better known for its ability to let editors produce for print, so the company bought Escenic CMS to augment its digital CMS offering.

Newspaper Industry Consolidates

You can also argue that industry consolidation is a driver for CMS consolidation, as the number of U.S. newspaper companies continues to shrink.

The major five U.S. newspaper publishing groups are Tribune, Hearst, Gannett, McClatchy, and GateHouse (New Media Investment Group). These companies are also buying up the assets of other major newspaper companies that have folded, like Digital First Media. It’s an unprecedented time of consolidation in the newspaper business. In 2015 for instance, Gannett acquired about 30 newspaper titles from Digital First Media and Journal Media Group.

So what proprietary CMS solutions are left in a consolidating newspaper industry? Barrett Golding, a 2015-16 fellow of the Reynolds Institute of Journalism, was curious about what CMS platforms U.S. newspapers use in 2015. His research showed that a large majority of U.S. daily newspapers using’s BLOX CMS. TownNews itself is owned by a newspaper publisher, Lee Enterprises. While Golding’s research shows BLOX CMS as a leader, keep in mind many platforms are not detected by tools like Builtwith and Wappalizer, which are tools used to identify the underlying structure of a website. For instance, NewsCycle Solutions is not present in his analysis, yet the company has over 8,000 media customers, primarily in the newspaper industry. And there are specific newspaper solutions for various segments of the industry, too. Our Hometown is a CMS solution built on top of Drupal that is specifically made for very small community newspapers looking to create digital properties. There are at least a dozen vendors trained on the newspaper and local media industry, so there could be further vendor consolidation ahead.

Interestingly enough, while the number of CMS solutions focused on the newspaper industry is shrinking, the amount of CMS solutions being leveraged by newspaper brands is not. I’ll examine that trend in greater detail in my next post, and we’ll also take a look at how Drupal and open source may be able to help reduce the number of disparate systems running behinds the scenes at newspapers.

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