Web Content Management

WCM systems are the hot new billionaire status symbol of 2019

Marc Benioff personally owns Time Magazine and via Salesforce Ventures, has a few million dollars invested in various WCM companies, including Bloomreach, Contentful and now $12 million in Automattic (Benioff owns 4% of Salesforce shares and they made a $300 million investment in Automattic).

That may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the WCM system that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has owned outright for a number of years, and that is arguably worth around $250 million dollars. Of course, it’s even more amusing given the fact you’ve probably never heard of this system, seen it on any industry publication, or RFP checklist.

I am talking about ARC Publishing, the in-house WCM system of the Washington Post (wholly owned by Jeff Bezos), which has been slowly building their client base among publishers, but now just landed their first non-publishing client this week. And boy, is it a big one – BP, one of the most valuable companies in the world, with over 70,000 employees.

So we now have two multi-billionaires with major cultural sway and significant personal investments in both media and WCM. Both of these men think about thing not in products, but in far more expansive understandings of platforms and centers of influence.

My title is a bit of a clickbait-ish, jokey headline but it underscores two important trends to consider;

Publishing/media is a critical space for WCM

By publishing, I mean the act of enabling content creators (and writers in particular). When the news came out, I argued that the Salesforce interest in Automattic was less about traditional “enterprise WCM” and more about:

…trying to compete or enable on a media level – so against the likes of Medium, Vox, Spotify, podcasting type plays – and social networking at large (which are actually, really, media companies in their own way). Automattic already has a large stable of media properties on their platform and I see this as a way to continue to improve that collaboration (building on NewsPack) and possibly compete more with ARC Publishing (owned by the Washington Post, which is in turn owned personally by Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon – which is another existential threat to Salesforce).

The scary thing for enterprise WCM vendors is that BP would have been seen as their traditional “ideal fit” client. Lots of distributed locations, roles and use cases (and most importantly, lots of money!). Another vendor who would have probably also been a good fit? Automattic. In other words, thinking as a publisher and those common tasks; ideation, scheduling, collaboration, content agility, etc. are more and more important and the renewed focus and growth of Automattic and ARC reflects this. I have argued that these critical functions exist in CMP and those goals should be folded into enterprise WCM, but with ARC landing BP as a client, it may be that the opposite happens – perhaps publishing-centric systems themselves (with some active interest from their billionaire benefactors; Bezos meets directly with the ARC team regularly) work towards taking over what were traditionally “enterprise CMS” functions. Personally I’m not sure this is a good fit (see my note on “Missing parts of WCM for WordPress VIP“), but those moves would sure make it interesting, and accelerate another trend…

“Enterprise” WCM splits even further (and we’re okay with that)

Enterprise WCM has already been under heavy attack from the edges; headless vendors such as Contentful and Contentstack providing a disruptive message of delivering value and simplicity in architecture and pricing. Some WCM vendors have bolstered their headless content capabilities (Sitecore JSS is a good example of this) to compete and differentiate. Other vendors which had a more “page layout” metaphor are busy bolting this capability on top (e.g. Adobe AEM and Content Fragments).

These vendors have always had a double-edged sword in that we commonly hear “We only use 20% of the product” from customers. And an enterprise vendor generally can address all use cases, the issue being that many customers often use a different 20% and get a lot of added cruft and infrastructure. Now you have more options; if you are more into publishing, WordPress VIP and ARC Publishing are clear contenders. Pure content lifecycle and omni-channel; Contentful and Contentstack. DXP and customer-centric functions; Salesforce and HubSpot. This also fits what Deane Barker has been saying for a while about the distributed nature of content, only now the “alternative” vendors, or content sources, or “centers of work” are even clearer and more feasible than in the past. Gatsby is another tool accelerating this process to help “bind” these disparate systems and processes together, and has also recently closed a $15million funding round.

The larger aspirations from these larger-than-life figures that control massive chunks of technology architecture and infrastructure that run the world should manifest in some very interesting ways in our little market. Perhaps Jeff Bezos decides to spin off ARC and pull more of these functions natively into AWS? (as it is now, ARC is basically just a reseller for massive chunks of AWS infrastructure) Maybe this prompts Benioff to invest further in ensuring WCM and publishing functions run better on Salesforce architectures as a counter-weight? Maybe Google decides to get more fully into the WCM game (their stagnant Google Sites and Blogger investments aside) as they are already massively under threat from Amazon from both cloud and now advertising.

It’ll be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

In other online media news, Taboola and Outbrain are merging. These companies are responsible for the majority of garbage “affiliate” content links (aka Clickbait) which drags down the reputation of otherwise respectable publishers. Personally, I like newspapers and magazines and want them to live and thrive – but I know that many depend on this garbage content to pad their margins and keep them in the black (or at least the right red). If something like ARC becomes more standardized and cheaper (their pricing is actually very reasonable for high traffic sites – I have seen it firsthand) then hopefully it will allow publisher to pull clickbait off their sites forever. Ideally we have a better ecosystem going forward so WordPress VIP and other vendors keep costs low while also advancing the state of innovation.

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