What was the scope of their involvement?
We’re currently working on building a new website. Plank’s model involves having a project manager as a direct contact. He facilitates the work on their end. I have been in touch with a designer, a frontend developer and a couple of backend developers for our project, but I can’t speak to the specific number of people involved. It’s significantly more efficient for us to have one point of contact who can translate between Plank and our group, in the same way as it is more convenient for our team to have me as a single point of contact, translating all the strange editorial requests we make.
On our legacy site, we would only run excerpts of material, and only seldom ran full text of the articles we publish. We undertook the new site with the aim to build a different access model. Plank has helped us implement a metered paywall for the articles we publish, so that we are loading in full texts, and governing access to them for the public, based on their subscription status.
We’ve been publishing since 1974, and have started working on loading in our full digital archive. Plank is building a custom CMS on Bolt. It accommodates the various needs and formats we’ve published over this 43-year span.
When we were discussing which platform to use for the CMS, we addressed our cross-referencing needs. The archive is indexed through around 100 keywords, but it’s also navigable by section (interviews, essays, fiction, and so on), and by contributor; users can check out all the work published by a given person.
When this is scaled out to 500 issues of the magazine, each of which with around 12 articles, 120 keywords and a few thousand contributors, WordPress will not be adequate; it will end up choking on the data calls. We landed on the Bolt CMS, on which Plank made some extensive modifications. It’s a more modern open-source content management system, designed to be more modular and flexible than some of the options we had been considering, prior to it.
There was also an e-commerce component to the site, but we ended up not using it. We had built subscription forms, as well as single-issue sale options. We have a book-publishing unit and rely on reader donations. Historically, we had all these siloed into individual sales arms, managed by the vendors which were fulfilling each independently. One of the goals for the site was to integrate all of this into a single unified e-commerce tool, which Plank did build, and had working well, but, near the end of our development process, we changed fulfillment vendors for the magazine, which made it much more difficult to accommodate the kind of unified platform we were building. Plank had relied on the APIs of our partners, so we were not able to use it, but it was key to the overall site vision.
How did you come to work with Plank?
We made a request for quote with a number of web vendors back in 2006-2007. We were taking our then-existent site from a minimal portal with half a dozen pages, including the About one, and a link where subscriptions could be ordered online. There was very little dynamic content, and we went from that to what can be seen right now: a full gallery of our back-issues with excerpted content from most of them, which is accessible and matches our minimalist aesthetic well.
This is as true today as it was then: Plank had an intuitive grasp of the magazine’s aesthetic and ethos, which they arrived at by being attentive to how we talk about and think about our publication. Plank wasn’t the cheapest option for the project, but they were the best fit.
What is the status of this engagement?
I believe we started working with Plank in 2007. The current project was started around 18 months ago and is 2 weeks away from launch.