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You may already know this website: www.cmsmatrix.org. But still, take a minute to go to the site and look around. The number of Content management Systems available is amazing - over 1,300, all different from one another via platform, features, user experience, and much more. CMS Matrix allows you to do some basic comparisons, which is useful, but what I find surprising  is that I can’t find ANYPLACE who does comparisons on CMS solutions, from a PRICING PERSPECTIVE. Yet, one of the most common questions is: How much does it cost?

So, I’m going to try to help. There is no way to provide ALL of the information needed to price a specific CMS requirement, but I can offer some basic anecdotes. Hopefully readers will understand what questions to ask in regard to pricing Content Management Systems.


This blog is part one of a two part series:

Part 1 - Ways of Pricing Content Management Systems

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • On Premise (or, Perpetual License/Subscription)
  • Free (no cost)

Part 2 - Variables used to Price Content Management Systems (coming soon)

Ways of Pricing CMS solutions

Software as a Service (SaaS) Pricing

Sometimes called “on demand” pricing, SaaS is a dynamic, hosted solution allowing a customer to forgo the purchase of the CMS software by almost always providing use of the CMS toolset(s) at one monthly cost. A business analyst has to balance many important elements to know if this is viable in a given situation including: available cash on hand, customizations required/features included, security threat expected, IT staff talent, and more.



Advantages of SaaS model

  • The website owner incurs no upfront software costs.
  • Site upgrades are usually included (for some solutions, all ‘on demand’ customers get upgraded at the same time, with the delivery of each new version). Further, the site owner doesn’t have to take RESPONSIBILITY for the upgrade, so no service or consulting costs are incurred, which can be significant.
  • Website hosting is built into the cost. So internal IT staff (networking, security, and hardware specialists) can keep minimal roles in website hosting.
  • Contracts may be constructed so that there is a way to cancel. This makes it possible to actually use this method as a Proof of Concept (POF), essentially limiting risk.

Disadvantages of SaaS model

  • The website owner does not purchase the software, so lifelong costs are usually higher (depending on how long the solution is in service).
  • Customizations can be tricky because source code isn’t exposed. Extensions can only be created using the SaaS provider model, so there are often limitations from a platform perspective.
  • Not all SaaS website solutions allow the owner to port content out of the website if/when it is decided to refresh the site in a new direction. In fact, it may be very difficult to get backend access to one’s own content!

On Premise Pricing

This is the traditional method of acquiring software; it is an outright purchase. In many cases, upgrades to the software are included for a certain amount of time and they may or may not be required (often referred to as “maintenance”, and will generally cost 15-25% of the original cost, each year, or some other given timeframe). Source code may or may not be included and most of the time the software is installed on either the owner’s internal servers or managed hosting servers (at a 3rd party hosting provider). For more on determining the best hosting options for your company, see my previous post on The Basics of Selecting Website Hosting.


Advantages of the On-Premise Model

  • If source code is included, the customization potential is unlimited.
  • Code upgrades can be planned in order to match organizational goals.
  • Over time, costs are low (but risk is inversely related to cost, so the risk is high.)
  • Owning the software affords immense flexibility in business processes for workflow, staging and development environments.

Disadvantages of the On-Premise Model

  • The upfront cost is high and upgrades usually still cost around 20% per year, or may even require entire renewals.
  • The risk is high because it takes great knowledge to properly host any sophisticated Content Management System.
  • The website owner needs to have a solid IT team, either in house or as incorporated consultants.
  • Hosting costs must be incurred in addition to software costs.

Free (no cost)

There are countless free CMS options (DotNetNuke, Joomla!, Drupal and Wordpress to name a few), and there are countless advantages and disadvantages to this model.


Advantages of Free CMS

  • Obviously, these being offered for “free” is the big advantage here.
  • Many open source CMS have large communities for support and often offer free open source extensions as well.
  • Open source CMS offer the greatest amount of flexibility if you have the IT resources to make customizations.

Disadvantages of Free CMS

  • Although the CMS is free, often times the add-ons to provide necessary functionality are not. Depending on the functionality and customization needed, end costs may be much more than expected.
  • Customer service support may be an issue. Even while large communities sometimes revolve around open source tools, those products are not always supported in the same professional way as is common with commercial grade products (who have actual organizations behind them to provide support).

Some organizations create Content Management Systems on their own, and then offer their products as open source solutions knowing support is often required. It becomes part of their business to sell that support. This model has launched a number of successful CMS solutions.

Feel free to leave any details or options that I may have missed in the comments section below and check back next week for Part 2 of this series.


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