The trend toward centralization is a change from several years ago, when publishers often pursued decentralized Web site operations. A handful of people at individual titles would be responsible for posting and managing content on sites that were siloed—more often than not using different technology and content strategies—from sibling sites within the media company.
But as the Internet has created more opportunities for publishing companies to share information across the organization—from database marketing to user-generated content—media companies are moving to create more central organizations and common platforms for their Web sites.
Take Reed Business Information, one of the largest b-to-b publishing companies, which in August formed a centralized division for its e-media operations called Reed Business Interactive. Previously, Reed had more than 50 different Web sites with as many digital strategies.
"Last summer, we made a decision to centralize our Internet strategy and develop scalability," said Jeff DeBalko, chief Internet officer at Reed Business Information. "It is very difficult to have a viable Web business in a silo. Now, we have one online strategy, and everyone is moving in the same direction."
One of the biggest changes in Reed's Web site operations has been in the area of content strategy.
"Previously, each publication decided what it did with the Web," DeBalko said. "Some sites had a very active online editorial staff writing real-time content, and other sites had none. Some sites tried to engage users, and others had absolutely no user engagement."
In addition to a central online organization, Reed also developed a new online content strategy that all of its publications will eventually adapt. The new Web site strategy, which Reed calls the "premium site model," has currently been rolled out by 12 publications, with between 35 and 40 to follow by the end of the summer.
Under the premium site model, Reed sites will no longer embargo content until the print edition comes out, as was often the case in the past. "It is all about putting content on the Web first," DeBalko said.
Moreover, the premium sites have a common look and feel, a common search capability through a Reed division called RB Search, aggregated content from around the Web (including content from Reed competitors) and a strong user-generated content focus.
"We mandated complete user engagement across the portfolio," DeBalko said. "Users have an opportunity to comment on every single thing we produce, and the comments are not filtered in any way, unless they are inappropriate."
Some of the Reed sites that have been switched over to the new model include those of B&C (Broadcasting & Cable), MultiChannel News and TWICE (This Week in Consumer Electronics).
In addition to a centralized content strategy, Reed also has centralized sales, operations, marketing, and research and product development. The Internet division now has 60 people and will grow to more than 100 in the next 90 days.
To manage all these changes, Reed is in the process of building a new publishing system. Currently, it uses eLogic, a content management and publishing system owned by Reed Business Information. It plans to partner with a third-party vendor to build the new CMS system. DeBalko declined to name the partner.
"There is really not any [CMS vendor] who has technology that is really catered specifically to b-to-b publishers," said Theresa Regli, principal analyst at CMS Watch, a content management systems research firm.
"If you're a publisher looking at a CMS system, you should think about your own business scenarios—being able to make very quick and timely updates, how you want to prioritize content, automatically associate articles with other stories and have very rich content relationships. Most content management systems do offer that."
Regli noted that many publishers have custom-built solutions, but are now moving to implement off-the-shelf CMS software that can be customized to meet their needs.
"There are a lot of custom-built solutions out there, but almost everyone has a goal to get off them," she said. "People are realizing that it is so much work to maintain a custom solution, and it's much easier to buy a package that they can customize a little bit."
Regli said the CMS market has matured enough to give publishers and other businesses the functionality they need, such as publishing articles, dynamically updating pages and automatically associating articles with news stories. At integrated media company ALM, Web site management is also becoming more centralized as the company grows through acquisitions and new products.
"We are trying to centralize the areas that make sense," said Alex Kam, VP-digital strategy and business development at ALM. Kam, who was named to the newly created position in March, is responsible for providing strategic guidance and project management across all of ALM's digital businesses.
"We don't think centralizing content makes sense because each publication has its own voice," Kam said. ALM publishes more than 30 magazines and newspapers, including The American Lawyer, Corporate Counsel, The National Law Journal and Real Estate Forum.
But, Kam added, "We can deploy best practices with a centralized platform."
ALM has centralized many areas, including production and business processes, design and development, and technology. It has also created a centralized service bureau to support the digital products of the different publications.
"Once a product is rolled out [such as a new online newsletter], we provide tools to the editors and content developers so they can populate the site without a lot of IT support," Kam said. "Going forward, we want to make sure the products are as self-sustained as possible."
ALM has a lean Web site production staff, with about 15 people. This group is assisted by a centralized IT department, with more than 20 people, that provides Web support.
Some of the projects on Kam's priority list include more tools for online communities and user-generated content, a fuller e-commerce system and a more comprehensive content management system.
Even media companies that are highly decentralized are facing new challenges with their Web site management as online becomes a more dominant part of their businesses.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at IDG's InfoWorld, which shut down its print operations in March and switched to an online and event-only strategy.
"It's like we are trying to change the tires on a moving truck," said Allen Fear, director of online content at InfoWorld, which operates as an independent business unit within IDG.
In its effort to beef up the digital business, InfoWorld.com plans to add one new product a month, as well as one new product enhancement a month. Some of the projects in the works include beefing up its online communities, such as IT Exec-Connect; adding more video content; and centralizing content management on a new system.
"The more we can bring under our own roof and can get the editors more involved, the better," Fear said. "We want to get production away from putting content on a page and more into infrastructure and site design."
InfoWorld currently has seven staffers on Web site production and four on IT support.
"Our priorities are based on incoming revenue opportunities," Fear said. "We need to balance the ongoing daily revenue needs with the long-term online needs."