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Royalty Management
Software Resources

Publishing Systems: Build or Buy?

For many independent publishers, the question of how to construct systems to support their business is a critical decision. Software and databases are crucial aspects of any publishing operation, ensuring that everything from publishing schedules to royalty management runs smoothly. And while support is available from various providers, many businesses may have sound reasons for developing their own solutions.

For businesses considering the ‘build or buy’ issue, here are five key areas to think about, along with the benefits and disadvantages of each option and some useful questions to ask.


This is often the most important consideration for anyone establishing the infrastructure of a business. Building bespoke systems and processes keeps set-up costs to a minimum, and they can work efficiently for new businesses. However, it’s essential to assess their hidden and incidental costs. Time spent on building them carries a significant expense, and distracts people who could work more profitably on other tasks. Custom-built software is rarely delivered on time and to budget, and costs can mount up to reflect the challenges of development – while all future fixes and updates incur even more expenses. Using off-the-shelf systems may require upfront investment, but they provide fewer risks and greater certainty about running expenses and can be more cost-effective in the long run.


Adopting new systems can be daunting. Building your own means you are in control of the implementation process, while working with a provider should give you access to the help you need to minimise disruption. This isn’t always the case though, so it is well worth discussing implementation plans with prospective developers. Be sure that they have sufficient experience and knowledge of the specific requirements of publishers, including the need to integrate with existing software. Experienced providers will be more familiar with your needs and frequent issues in implementation. If you can, get references from other businesses who have used your prospective provider, especially those of similar size.


Publishers with ambitions to grow their business need to be sure that their systems will be able to grow with them. Are publishing and royalty management tools robust enough to cope with a growing list, or will they quickly become outdated? Can they be updated regularly enough to adapt to changing technologies and market needs? Does your provider have a good track record of upgrades, and how smoothly can their platform develop? Will they be around in the long-term, and what are their costs for managing upgrades? If you build your own systems you need to consider if you have the skills and time to maintain them. If you buy them, you must be confident they are properly future-proofed.


Establishing the robustness of own- or custom-build systems is harder than it sounds, because there are inevitably complexities that are difficult to anticipate. They might have been developed by individuals or a small team, who may not be around to support or upgrade their products in the longer term. Of course, you can’t be sure that bought-in systems are strong enough to perform as you wish either, but they are more likely to have been tested and improved based on previous users’ feedback. As Emerald’s Sarah Boyd said during a session at a recent IPG Conference, systems are “about solving problems and making lives easier or better, and a massive factor in that is risk mitigation. If it reduces the risks you have, that’s a great driver to implement a piece of technology.”


Adopting systems doesn’t end with implementation. Most will require ongoing support and troubleshooting. Businesses that build their own will need to be confident they can fix any problems that emerge, or have a reliable source of back-up. Those who buy systems should be able to depend on their provider for follow-up help, but levels and quality of support vary. How long will a business support their product? Are they likely to be responsive do your requests, and what are the processes for handling your feedback? Do they take a genuine interest in your needs and plans? All businesses must be able to put trust in their partners.

Many publishing companies believe they can build solutions that are effective alternatives to ones that are commercially available – and in some cases they may be right, especially in the early phases of a business. However, as with all big business decisions, it’s crucial to consider issues in the round, and to take the long as well as short term view.


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MetaComet Systems, Inc., Computer Software Publishers & Developers, South Hadley, MA