Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
3 mins read

The ‘build or buy’ decision for publishers is getting easier

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In deciding whether to build or buy software, increased access to SaaS solutions has made the decision to buy easier

The ‘build or buy’ conversation has been going on for as long as technology has been a vital component of business success. In the past, companies had little choice but to develop their own software because what they needed wasn’t available off the shelf. But increased access to SaaS solutions has made the decision to buy easier and more affordable.


  • In the early days of digital publishing, the tools needed to publish and organize content online were not readily available. Frustrated by what they could buy, many larger organizations chose to build their own systems to ensure they were able to do what they wanted online.
  • Fast forward to today and there is an array of publishing and advertising technology accessible to even the smallest media outfit. From content management to data management, publishers can put together a tech stack from the ground up without a single line of bespoke code being written.
  • According to a recent article about CMS development in the UK’s Press Gazette, however, that does not mean that the build or buy conversation has disappeared. And the choice can seem especially difficult where a company has already invested in a custom solution and the decision is less build or buy and more ‘cut and run’.

The starting point

  • The starting point for any build or buy conversation should be a discussion around needs and requirements rather than software suppliers. This should identify and prioritize the ‘must-have’ features of the system needed, from monetisation strategies to end user expectations, and include input from every stakeholder group.
  • Without clear answers to questions about how teams work and collaborate to deliver against strategic goals, it will be impossible to decide if a bespoke development is required or if an off-the-shelf solution will deliver the bulk of the functionality needed.
  • Digital media consultant Martin Ashplant told Press Gazette that publishers should avoid getting distracted building something new if it doesn’t significantly boost the value of the audience experience. He said:

What option they choose will come down to multiple considerations, not least cost, availability of technology talent and required time to market.

Resources and risks

  • It can be easy to underestimate the full resource requirements for a software development project. And given the pace of change in digital publishing, systems are rarely ever complete; besides ongoing support they are almost guaranteed to require upgrading as needs evolve.
  • For publishers who want to bring development in-house, this means trying to find technology talent, which is increasingly difficult due to global demand. Working with a SaaS supplier still requires an investment in staff to work with vendors, the focus is on publishing rather than software engineering.
  • The risks in a software build are all around the publisher’s ability to deliver, from fixing problems to releasing updates, and investment in resources is crucial. Bringing in a commercial solution is not without risk – what if your suppliers goes bust? Publishers need to do their due diligence before selecting vendors.

The decision

There is no right or wrong answer to the build or buy question in publishing, however there are few instances where the investment needed to deliver a custom development  will deliver enough value to outweigh the investment required.

The initial costs required to set up a SaaS can be significant, but Iain McPherson, CEO of WordPress agency Big Bite told Press Gazette:

In the longer term relying on a tried and tested product usually delivers significant savings, andwith  the right technical partner to extend its capabilities, it can offer just as much creative control, without any of the software production headaches.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends is a division of, a content analytics and revenue generation platform for digital publishers. For weekly updates and analysis on the industry news you need as a media and publishing business, subscribe to Spiny’s Trends weekly email roundup here.