CEO Corner: How do You Compete with Free?

Submitted By Michael Assad December 14, 2012

I went out for lunch with one of our customers last week. They are one of the largest magazine publishers in Canada and one of the first customers of our Magazine Suite.

I’ll leave real names out of it, but for the purposes of the article, I’ll call my lunch guest Ben. 

Ben is a media entrepreneur. He started a blog that became one of the most popular in Canada which was then bought by said publisher. He is now a VP.

I’ll Have the WordPress

Like many publishers, Ben prefers WordPress. Their one Agility site is an oddball and the choice of platform was made before he joined. So I figured that this would be a great opportunity to learn about why he prefers WordPress and how we can compete.

It’s Low Cost

It’s hard to argue with the economics. WordPress is free.  Not only that, it has an enormous base of developers that can be hired for as little as $10 an hour. Compare that with ASP.NET developers, the choice of Agility, and you’re looking at a minimum of $85 per hour in Toronto – if you’re lucky enough to find one.

It’s Good Enough

Ben did not choose WordPress because it’s the best CMS on the market. He even admitted that “the advantage Agility has over WordPress is that WordPress sucks.”  But it’s good enough.  Websites are more like Ikea furniture than bridges or buildings – they’re throw-away.  Show me a three year old site that isn’t total crap. So where’s the return on investing tens of thousands of dollars on a website if you’re just going to rebuild it every two or three years.

Over-Engineering is Under-Rated

Agility was founded by engineers. Naturally, we think of the long term integrity of our system. And we’re certainly not going to gut our solutions to make them cheap and cheerful and try to compete head on with free. So I guess there’s only one way we can compete.

We Need to Innovate

WordPress is not the only free CMS. Drupal and Joomla jump to mind, but there are lots and lots of others. So we as CMS vendors need to think beyond the traditional web content management functionality and figure out ways to innovate our way to a competitive advantage. No, I’m not talking about customer experience management, whatever that is. We need to identify who our core customer is and build specific solutions that are tailored and sufficiently differentiated to warrant a price tag.

We’ve chosen independent magazines and advertising agencies covered.  Who is your core customer?


About this CMS Enthusiast

Michael Assad

Michael Assad

I am the co-founder and former CEO of Agility Inc. – makers of fine content management software. A casualty of the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, I turned to freelance web development. Over the last 11 years, I led the growth of Agility to become the fastest growing web development company in Canada for multiple years running, and then on to become a leading CMS provider. I am also the founder of Unbound Media – an online publication dedicated to demystifying digital for brands and publishers. I am a boarder, golfer, F1 fan, and fitness nut who loves a good Munich lager and appreciates a fine Cuban cigar.

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