Build a Custom CMS

Should You Build a Custom CMS?

If you have been in the digital publishing industry for long enough, you’ve probably come across someone who’s decided to build a custom CMS. The process can provoke anxiety and frustration for even the most experienced publishers. That’s because the expectations for a custom CMS are almost never in line with reality.

The reasons behind wanting to build a custom CMS are plentiful. Some publishers want flexibility. Others want specific functionality or enhanced security features that they don’t think they get with an off-the-shelf solution.

Unfortunately, the reality of building and maintaining a custom CMS almost never lives up to the expectations. Despite their investment, most digital publishers who build a custom CMS will return to an off-the-shelf platform like WordPress within one to five years.

Choosing the right content management system is one of the biggest decisions a digital publisher will make. A CMS can make or break a publication’s website. It’s the application that publishers use to create, manage, and modify the content on their websites. These systems allow publishers, editors, and reporters to update content on their own, without needing to know HTML or other web coding languages. With the right CMS, anyone on the publication’s staff should be able to post and edit articles, while also managing things like digital assets and records.

What Is a Custom CMS?

A custom CMS is a system for creating, managing, and modifying digital content that’s been developed specifically for a publisher. Workflows and features can be tailored to the publication. With a custom CMS, publishers can sometimes get access to advanced features that don’t come standard in off-the-shelf systems. Custom applications can also be developed with simplified interfaces, which works nicely for especially large teams of editors and writers.

Why Don’t Most Publishers Use a Custom CMS?

Building a custom CMS is risky. Not only does the process of developing this kind of system take significantly more time than most publishers realize, but it can also become a financial drain. Custom CMS projects are notorious for running over budget, especially when publishers are asking for advanced features.

Another obstacle has to do with ownership. Building a custom CMS means taking ownership of the project, and that comes with its own set of hassles and headaches. It’s up to the publisher to manage and implement all software updates. Depending on how the CMS was designed, licensing issues can come into play, as well.

If the developer who built the CMS goes out of business or moves, then a publisher can quickly be left with a system that’s obsolete. Hiring an outside developer to bring an outdated custom CMS into compliance with the latest best practices is expensive and time consuming.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that most developers do not have experience working with digital news and online magazine publishers, and as such, they don’t understand the unique constraints that these businesses are facing. Whether you choose to go with a custom CMS or an off-the-shelf system like WordPress, it’s important to hire a developer that specializes in working with digital publishers.

Is Building a Custom CMS a Smart Idea?

In short — no. For all the reasons outlined above, building a custom CMS is not a smart idea for the vast majority of digital publishers. Building a custom CMS is an expensive, time consuming process. What happens if the developer who built the custom system quits? Who is responsible for paying to upgrade the system as new technologies come on the market? Digital news and online magazine publishers find better results when they work with a web developer to customize a CMS like WordPress.

Although there may be legitimate reasons to build a custom CMS, off-the-shelf systems like WordPress provide a better result at a lower cost for most digital publishers.

Additionally, the WordPress CMS offers more advanced features for managing online subscriptions and integrated newsletters than any other CMS. With the digital publishing industry evolving quickly, and new monetization channels popping up each year, it makes sense for publishers to use a CMS that can adapt to the changing times.

To learn even more about how digital publishers are using WordPress, read Choosing the Right CMS: The Five Questions You Need to Ask.