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The real cost of enterprise content management systems

Siavash Moazzami-Vahid
Try Storyblok

Storyblok is the first headless CMS that works for developers & marketers alike.

The costs of content management systems vary by a huge degree. Some systems cost considerably more than the others, and while better services and support can sometimes explain this difference in price, it is not always the case. Just like in any other industry, the costs of a content management system depend on a long list of criteria, some making more sense than the others.

While each vendor offers their pricing on their website (hopefully!), this in no way means that you as a potential user can compare your options in a clear way. One reason is because pricings are usually listed according to different criteria: some price their system by the number of users, while others by features.

However, there is a much bigger problem when you have to compare costs between different vendors.

Section titled Licence fees: Only the tip of the iceberg Licence fees: Only the tip of the iceberg

What everyone refers to as "price", is essentially the licensing fees. While they may be based on different criteria, they are still relatively easy to get your hands on. The problem is, these licensing fees are just a portion of the total costs.

Implementing a new CMS can be much more complicated than simply buying a product. It usually comes with an array of different tasks, like process changes, organizational changes, and even changes in hiring new people. The bulk of the costs in some situations are not even mentioned in the price tables. This means clients end up paying considerably more than what they originally thought they were going to pay.

An iceberg showing the different costs of a legacy enterprise CMS. Most of the costs are hidden under the sea level.

License fees are only the tip of the CMS-costs iceberg

Section titled What are you paying for? What are you paying for?

While this seems like a pretty basic question, the answer can quickly get really confusing. As you can guess, depending on the vendor, the costs can be grouped in different ways. Not to mention, in some cases the costs will not be directly mentioned by the vendor (e.g. training costs). To make things easier, let’s call these groups by what they really are:

Section titled 1. CMS Licence fees 1. CMS Licence fees

As mentioned before, this is the most straightforward of the group. This is what you see in the pricing page of the provider. There is not much to be said here, as all the data is always there for you to examine yourself.

Generally speaking, license fees can be put into 2 main categories:

1. Subscriptions: Recurring licence fees

2. Perpetual licences: One-time licence fees

Within these 2 groups, pricing can also be based on multiple factors, such as:

  • Consumption-based pricing
  • Feature-based pricing
  • ...

Perhaps the most important thing to consider here, is to find a plan that is the closest to your current needs. Some providers offer a wider range of plans, while others limit it to just a few options. Obviously, you don’t want to pay for services that you do not need in the foreseeable future. You should also consider how easy it is to scale as you grow. Having more options can make scaling and growth much easier on your budget.

Needless to say, always compare compatible products to see what suits you best. And remember, the best systems always offer free trials, so take advantage of that.

Section titled 2. CMS implementation 2. CMS implementation

Implementation costs vary based on the size of your operations and your team. Depending on your situation, you may want to use an in-house team to handle the implementation (either an already experienced team, or hiring a new one), or you may hire an external agency to handle it.

It is pointless to either embrace or reject one option completely, as they cater to different needs. For example, hiring an external agency will give you the peace of mind that the project is going to be handled by experienced individuals. On the other hand, training your own team can also be a great solution, as the experience can and will be translated into other cases in the future. You could also go for the third option: hire external help to support your existing team. This option may prove useful for cases where a competent in-house team is desired for future plans, however due to time constraints, external help is deemed necessary to run things quickly.

Section titled 3. CMS hosting 3. CMS hosting

A new CMS would usually require a new server. This means, you always have to include these costs in your initial budget planning. Just like other cases, you have different options when it comes to hosting:

  • Dedicated servers
  • Shared servers
  • Managed servers
  • VPS

While some options are obviously more affordable (e.g. shared servers), others give you more flexibility and control (e.g. dedicated servers). Obviously, in the context of an enterprise operation, server costs are going to be a considerable portion of the whole costs.

Section titled 4. CMS maintenance 4. CMS maintenance

You just don’t pay for a server and then forget about it, but also have to maintain it all the time. This means you have to take into account the costs of a maintenance team that is going to be watching over your server. Maintenance usually is centered around the following areas:

  • Regular CMS Updates
  • Server Maintenance
  • Security Audits & Support
  • Backup solutions

It should also be noted that you are not only spending money for maintenance, but also a good amount of your non-monetary capital: time, talent, and manpower. In other words, not only do you have to pay for your servers to be maintained, but you usually end up re-directing your valuable talent resources to mundane maintenance jobs, instead of more creative duties.

Section titled 5. Training 5. Training

Finally, migrating to a new CMS also means training your teams not only to work with the new system, but also to learn configuration, testing, customization, and other development tools.

Like other points, training can vary considerably between different vendors. Depending on your choice of system and your team's previous experiences, sometimes the learning curve can be quite extreme and time-consuming. Other times, things happen to complement each other better, resulting in a more seamless process.

Section titled Cut back the hidden costs: How to clear things up Cut back the hidden costs: How to clear things up

Hopefully now you can understand why it is so hard to get a correct estimate of the real CMS costs. However, it really doesn’t have to be so complicated.

One reason behind this complexity is the outdated architecture of many content management systems that are currently in use. These older systems, usually called “monolithic” or simply “traditional”, come as all-in-one packages. This means they aim to offer all capabilities (frontend and backend) in one single package. In short, these legacy systems put the backend responsibilities (server, maintenance, extensive training, monumental implementation or replatforming efforts, etc.) on your shoulders, leaving you with an array of costs and exhaustive tasks.

This is of course true for all in-house solutions too, since by definition, you are trying to maintain both the frontend and the backend by yourself. Again, this leaves your developers in charge of management, maintenance, and updates. All these would be on top of your actual priorities, like offering great user experience and personalized journeys (mostly frontend work).

The solution is to separate the backend from the frontend. By separating, I mean using a SaaS approach to content management. More specifically, I mean leaving the backend capabilities and responsibilities to the vendor. This means that the bulk of the hidden costs simply disappear, as they are not your responsibility anymore.

Instead of maintaining your own servers, a SaaS approach means leaving the heavy lifting of your maintenance, updates, and all server issues to your vendor.

A comparison of the costs between a SaaS and an in-house solution to CMS. The Iceberg analogy shows the underwater portion of the in-house option being much longer than the SaaS option.

You can cut down your hidden CMS costs by breaking the link between your frontend and backend

Section titled How does a SaaS approach reduce the hidden costs? How does a SaaS approach reduce the hidden costs?

Let’s take a look at all the costs that a SaaS cms solution can cut out from your operations by getting rid of:

1. Hardware / Server costs: SaaS platforms are cloud hosted, which means that immediately all costs associated with hardware and server are eliminated.

2. Maintenance: By definition, since the backend is handled by your SaaS CMS provider, they are also in charge of its maintenance and updates. This means that you can freely redirect your developers to more customer-centric tasks, such as creating better aesthetics and user experiences.

3. Training: While training is still a thing to be considered in SaaS solutions, the scope is nowhere near the traditional counterpart. SaaS solutions allow you to build your own technology stack, based on your needs and previous experiences. This means you can only choose the tools and frameworks that your team is already familiar with, resulting in considerably simpler learning curves.


A SaaS approach can also potentially lower the scalability costs. This is because of these systems' tendency towards a best-of-breed approach (as opposed to the all-in-one approach encouraged by the traditional and on-premise solutions).

Best-of-Breed vs All-in-One

Download our free guide to learn more about the distinctions between the two approaches.

Section titled A final word: Always assess your situation A final word: Always assess your situation

In the world of content management, a universal solution for all situations is problematic at best, and outright dangerous at worst. If some vendors claim that their solution fits all, you should consider that a red flag.

In this context, while a SaaS solution can cut down the hidden costs and give you much less headache when it comes to maintenance, it does not simply mean that it is always the answer to every problem.

There is nothing that can replace a true hands-on experience with a service, or a conversation with a real specialist. Afterall, in an enterprise setting, content management can make or break all your content strategy, so why not make sure what you are getting yourself into?

In case you would like to try out a SaaS CMS solution, you can try Storyblok for free here. If you have questions, you can start looking for answers in our FAQ, take a look at our guides, or contact us here - we’re happy to help you figure out the best CMS setup for your business.