The Washington Post has gone through several transformations since Jeff Bezos bought it last summer, and now it is going down a path where many a tech company has stumbled.
The Financial Times reported yesterday that The Washington Post now plans to license its CMS, or content management system, to other publications.
According to Business Insider (which isn’t behind a paywall):
The Post plans to sell its back-end content-management system (CMS) to local and regional newspapers.
The report says The Post was approached by some of its partner newspapers, which already have content-sharing deals with The Post, about licensing the software that’s used for The Post’s website. The Post has content-sharing deals with the Dallas Morning News and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, while some colleges like Columbia, Yale, and the University of Maryland already use the software on a trial basis.
If the deal goes through, it could open up a whole new revenue channel for The Post. Traditional print newspapers and magazines, like The Post, saw their businesses decline in recent years as they’ve struggled to keep up with digital. But with a new CMS-licensing business, The Post can broaden its footprint and find new growth from the technology side of its business.
For those just tuning in, “CMS” is a technical term for the (software) system or platform that companies use to manage their content.
One example of a CMS would be WordPress, which many sites (including this one) use to serve up webpages to visitors, but other less obvious uses include a diverse range of activities from a company’s internal system to manage documentation (a Wiki is one example) to managing the print side of the Washington Post’s operations.
The term CMS is actually pretty broad, but in the case of the WP we’re probably talking about a system focused on taking news articles, images, and video from journalists and serving them up on a website (and possibly in a print edition).
And that’s a problem for the WP, because there simply isn’t much of a market for a web CMS. The most popular one, WordPress, is free to download, and there are numerous free alternatives which are less well-known but still quite usable.
But even without the issue of the size of the market, this story is not going over well in certain quarters. The WP is not the first news organization to try to license its CMS, and past attempts have fared poorly.
I first caught this story from Anil Dash, and he described it as:
Ohhh boy. WaPo talks about adding a new revenue stream: licensing its CMS. http://t.co/b4aMfSZebI
— (@anildash) December 30, 2014
Later he tweeted:
Remember the first rule of content management systems: There is no god, we all die alone. https://t.co/iql2CcCeGg
— (@anildash) December 30, 2014
You’re going to want to click through to the tweets; there’s quite a bit of discussion about CMSs, and the wit, snark, and horror stories will tell you more about this topic than any of the news coverage.
That impromptu Twitter debate is why I described the WP’s decision as a classic blunder (a reference to The Princess Bride). I don’t see this ending any better than when other news organizations have tried to license their CMS.