How Dennis makes money offering publishing tech to others

Many publishers are going the platform route, boasting that their tech backend is a difference maker. Yet for all this talk of tech as a secret sauce, few publishers actually license their tech to others.

Dennis Publishing is doing just that. Its enterprise division is creating new revenue streams and helping the rest of the company become more technologically advanced in the process. These tech services consist of app development group Dennis Media Factory, digital agency Adnostic, and content management and advertising technology platform Contentment. As well as Dennis Publishing itself, Contentment counts Vitesse, Money Week, Singletrack, NESTA, Search Press and Amber Books among its clients.

Martin Belson, managing director of Dennis Enterprise, explained how its publishing tech fits into the broader picture at Dennis.

How did Dennis Enterprise come about?
Our frustration with the platforms we used early on was that they were not scalable and, therefore, did not fit our digital publishing model. We decided to invest in Contentment, who we worked with to develop Padify, their HTML5 tool, the publishing platform that helps deliver content across multiple platforms. By creating once and publishing everywhere, we were able to deploy our brands on any device we wanted, which allows the customer to consume our content on the platform of their choice.

Why license out your CMS? Isn’t that giving away a competitive advantage?
The tool is dedicated to help publishers create interactive cross-platform advertising. Dennis has seen a huge success with our award-winning digital production agency Adnostic, that now builds over 60 percent of interactive advertising that sit within newsstand apps in the U.K. We drew on this to help Contentment launch Adventure, which is aimed at small publishers that have been priced out of this market until now, and are losing out on revenue streams.

What’s the advantage for content-technology companies in having media owners as investors?
A media owner investing in tech businesses allows them to have a much more intimate understanding of how they operate and how they can add value to other media owners. It’s helped us generate revenue outside of our core stream and given us an insight into potential future challenges we might face.

Does Dennis build technology solutions itself, or are they mostly brought on board through acquisition?
We do build our own technology solutions in-house: We do lot of work on creating Drupal solutions through Dennis Digital and our app development team create all of our apps. We work closely with our investment partners on developing other technology that is outside of our core competency.

What are the benefits of a custom CMS? High costs and a lack of flexibility has typically handicapped publishers.
Agreed, a custom CMS is always a bad idea. A general purpose CMS (like WordPress) that is open to plugins and other customization is a rather better one. [But] frankly, WordPress itself is really showing its age now — full of feature bloat and inconsistency, and too closely tied to the “blog” model.

Can media companies really compete with dedicated software companies? There are a lot of WordPress developers out there.
Publishers should be adept in using tech and careful about making good strategic tech choices that allow for necessary differentiation. But a software business is a fundamentally different kind of business from a publishing business. Software built for a single company rather than to address a wider market has historically fared rather badly, suffering from high maintenance costs in particular. This is why investing in a tech business that has a broader customer base is a better move than building in-house.

BuzzFeed made much of its approach of giving brands access to publishing expertise and publishing technology in its latest funding round. Is this something you’re trying to do too?
We already offer our in-house expertise through our agency Adnostic, who work with a number of other publishers on their digital advertising offering. The launch of Adventure complements the work they are doing and offers smaller publishers a suitable solution for their needs. I’m really pleased that Contentment is continuing to grow and creating a new vertical within their business with this launch and it has already had a great reception from independent publishers.

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