A Review of the Agility Magazine Publishing Suite

Last week, Agility officially announced the release of their new Agility Magazine Publishing Suite. After ten years of creating digital content management solutions for top brands like Subaru, Doritos, Uncle Ben's, Campbell's, Oprah Network, W Network, Cineplex, Shoppers Drug Mart, and CTV, Agility is moving further into the media and publishing industry. The Magazine Suite is a cloud-based website publishing solution that is designed for online magazines and blogs. 

Over the past year, I've had a chance to watch Agility evolve and improve their new product and recently CMS Report completed a migration of its site from Drupal to Agility's Magazine Suite. Having previously run all my sites on a self-managed hosted server, the most significant change for me is reliability and up time as Agility's products utilize cloud technologies. I admit, there are some Drupal "features" I'm missing in Agility, but at the same time Agility has introduced me to some new workflows that I alone couldn't master on my own without Agility's help. Overall, the move to Agility's Magazine Suite has been a positive experience for me. For those hoping for a better comparison between Drupal and Agility, I'm needing to spend a few more months with Agility before I give judgement and comparison opinions on either CMS.

Agility's new Magazine Suite is targeted at companies and brands that publish rich content – be it magazine, blog or custom publication. With existing clients such as Glow Magazine, ParentsCanada, Canadian Bride, Clean Eating, and Oxygen, their CMS is tried and tested. While the company is based in Toronto, their customers are global and they serve a number of publishers here in the United States too.

Being relatively new to Agility, I'm admittedly still a little fuzzy on all the differences between their two products, the CMS platform and the Magazine Suite. My take is that the differences are more than just software and modules but also in just as important elements such as content strategy and customer support. Agility's own press release seems to validate this opinion:

The Agility Magazine Suite follows the success we've had with our CMS platform in the media and publishing space,” says Michael Assad, CEO of Agility, “our new product saves months of setup time and tens of thousands of dollars over traditional web publishing systems. We know publishers are struggling to find their footing online and our goal with the Magazine Suite is to ease this transition."

Process and Features of the Magazine Suite

The Agility Magazine Suite was developed over 5 years of working with some of the world’s largest media companies and has been battle tested with millions of page views. As far as I can tell, CMS Report is probably one of the smallest publishing sites utilizing Agility's new product. So from my perspective, it will be interesting to see if Agility's focus will remain both large and small, magazine and blog. I'm an amateur among Agility's more experienced publishers but you wouldn't know it from Agility's employees. It has been my experience that Agility has treated my site with the same level of customer service as their larger publishers. Since it appears that Agility is well equipped to support a wide range of customers I'm inclined to believe they'll continue to target the entire segment of magazine publishers as potential customers. 

Featuring an ability to integrate with leading magazine subscription systems and a built in module for showcasing magazine issues, Agility promotes that a new site can be ready for customers in as little as 5 weeks. My experience with Agility and similar projects is this process can take longer if you are migrating a site with large quantity of content from another CMS into Agility. Luckily, Agility's developers and database experts are very knowledgeable in importing and exporting this data. If you're developing a brand new site with the Magazine Suite, I have no doubts that Agility can get you a well polished site online within five weeks.

The CMS tools are tailored for continuous content updates and are based on the 9 fundamentals of website performance which include:

  • Layout and Navigation
  • Advertising and Ad Placement
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Content Merchandising
  • Social Media Integration
  • Content Syndication
  • Mobile
  • Community
  • Performance

Some of the specific features found in the Magazine Suite include the basics such as page management, featured content, a large banner homepage slider, polls, and mechanisms for handling the latest, popular, and related articles. Taxonomy elements are included with special focus on topics and category keywords (although I think some user interface improvements can be made here). There are plenty of CMS features tied to social media, with the ability to share your content as well as customers able to use their own social media accounts to open an account with your site.

Despite all the additional and plentiful features found in the Magazine Suite there will be times when what Agility offers may not meet your specific needs. However, I found Agility's developers and culture to be more than willing to work with me in tweaking the features so they worked better to my liking. For example, while the Magazine Suite has always allowed for you to syndicate your content through RSS feeds, I wanted more control in the amount of content and quantity of articles I provided in those feeds. Within days, Agility's developers added the ability for me to customize my RSS feeds with those features that I had requested. 

Probably one of the most valuable features in the Magazine Suite is contributor workflow. The contributor module add-on provides an easy-to-use interface for writers to contribute articles to your site and magazine. For sites such as CMS Report, the ability to empower users to be more than just readers of your articles but also participants is key to our success (we now have over 300 guest writers that have contributed articles to our site). While all sites have workflow for primary authors in place, the Magazine Suite also allows trusted users at your site to easily become guest writers and provides you with some very powerful tools for managing contributed articles. The contributor module provides this ability for users log into your site to contribute and their articles are submitted directly into your publishing workflow.

Best of all – the Agility Magazine Suite is in the cloud so there is no hardware, software, website hosting or maintenance required. Moving my site to a software as a service platform such as Agility was the most difficult decision I ever made with regards to CMS Report. However, after making the decision I found that moving the site to Agility's cloud solutions was also the very best decision I've ever made. With Agility, the time I now spend in site maintenance and worry is less than any other time in CMS Report's seven year history. My advice to those that are hesitant to utilizing cloud technologies for hosting their website, educate yourself on the benefits of SaaS and PaaS and don't let your fear of the cloud hold you back from moving your site forward to a better website administration experience. Companies such as Agility know how to ensure your journey to the cloud is not as difficult as you might think it would be.

Final Thoughts

Inevitably, somebody will ask me whether I would recommend they move their website to Agility's Magazine Publishing Suite. I'm going to state the obvious answer here. Agility isn't for everyone and you're going to have to do your own homework and decide if the Magazine Suite will meet your needs. If you've been running your site on the cheap then the $1000 setup fee and $300 monthly fee might be a little intimidating to your pocket book. However, the price that Agility is asking for their product and services is fair and reasonable. If you're needing to evolve your site beyond where it is today this asking price is inevitable no matter whose product you decide to utilize for your website.

If you are a more established online publisher or a traditional print publisher looking for online options, more than likely it is not price or technology that is holding you back but your desire to work with a company that understands your business needs. If you're a magazine or niche publisher I especially recommend that you consider Agility and Agility's Magazine Suite as an option. My advice  to you is that as you consider using their products, begin building a relationship with Agility's people and get to know the company better. During the past year or two, Agility hasn't been just about software but also content strategy geared toward online publishers. Too often we come across companies that only adequately understands either content strategy or technology and thus stresses one for the sake of the other. Agility is one of those rare companies that appears to understand both assets are equally important to your business.