Earlier this month, the international media group Hubert Burda Media (about 2.5 billion annual revenue, more than 10,000 employees, and more than 300 titles) released its Drupal 8 distribution, Thunder. Thunder includes custom modules specifically tailored to the needs of professional publishers.

This is great news for three reasons: (1) I've long been a believer in Drupal distributions, (2) I believe that publishers shouldn't compete through CMS technology, but through strong content and brands, and (3) Thunder is based on Drupal 8.

Distributions enable Drupal to compete against a wide range of turnkey solutions, as well as break into new markets. The number of vertical distributions that can be created is nearly limitless, and the possibilities are endless. Thunder is a great example of that.

Professional publishing is one of the industries that has faced the most extensive business model disruption because of the web. Many companies are feeling pressure on their revenue streams, yet you'll find that some companies still focus their efforts on building proprietary, custom CMS platforms as a way to differentiate. This doesn't have to be the case – I've long believed that Drupal (and open source, more generally) can give publishers endless ways to differentiate themselves at much lower costs.

The following video gives an overview of the Thunder approach:

Custom features for publishers

Thunder adds a range of publisher-centric Drupal modules to Drupal 8 core. Specifically, Burda added integrations with audience "circulation" counting tools and ad servers, as well as single sign-on (SSO) support across multiple sites. They've also developed a theme which implements infinite scrolling.

Thunder users also benefit from a range of channel- and feature-specific enhancements through collaboration with industry partners. The following extensions are already available or in the final stages of development:

  • Riddle.com provides an easy-to-use editor for interactive content. The data from the resulting polls and quizzes is available to the publisher.
  • nexx.tv offers a video CMS and their video player. And Microsoft will support the video solution with 100,000 free video streamings per month through their Azure cloud.
  • Facebook will provide a module for integrated publishing to their Instant Articles, exclusively for Thunder users.

Smart collaboration

I admire the approach Burda is taking to bring publishers, partners and developers together from throughout the industry to develop the best open-source CMS platform for publishers.

At the core is a team of publishing experts and developers led by Ingo Rübe, CTO for Burda's German publishing operations, and initiator of Thunder. This team will also be responsible for coordinating the continuous development and enhancement of Thunder.

Under Thunder's policy, all features provided by industry partners must be offered for free or with a freemium model; in other words, a significant part of the functionality has to be provided at no cost at all. Smaller publishers will likely benefit from this approach, as they will be able to use a full-fledged publishing solution that is continuously enhanced and maintained by larger partners.

Big brands are already using Thunder

Although Thunder is still in public beta, Burda has migrated three brands to Thunder. The German edition of Playboy (about 2M monthly visits) was the first to move at the end of 2015. The fashion brand InStyle (about 1.8M monthly visits) and gardening website "Mein schöner Garten" (about 1.5M monthly visits) are also running on Thunder. Most of the other German Burda brands are planning to adopt Thunder in the next 12 months. This includes at least 20 brands such as Elle.de and Bunte.de, which have more than 20 million monthly visits each.

You can download Thunder from https://www.drupal.org/project/thunder.


Anoop John (not verified):

This is commendable work by Burda Media. What is interesting is that the contribution is not made by a Drupal service provider but a large organization that works with Drupal. There are two other areas where strong Drupal distributions would help - education and media. There has been initiatives in the past to create distributions for each but I do not think that any of them picked any real steam.

I think the fundamental problem is that Drupal distributions tend to take away a lot of incentive for commercial Drupal organizations to create and contribute them in the first place. Distributions would tend to devalue the effort and the opportunity to bill the client for building a full solution in the space. So even if a commercial organization releases a distribution they would find it more profitable and actually be viable if they focus on efforts towards building solutions to their clients.

There is more IP in creating a distribution than in creating a module. A module in itself is very far away from a total solution, where as a distribution is quite close to it. Free software in general disincentivizes IP creation and reselling that IP to generate profits.

It would be interesting to see how the space of Drupal distributions evolves and how Drupal companies contributes to that.

Dominique (not verified):

Very nice work from Burda. Specifically with D8.
The basic question about distribution with Drupal is 'does it attract billed clients who want an enhanced solution based on the actual distribution?'
I believe so even though I personally face hard time building a distribution dedicated to back office management.

Janez Urevc (not verified):

Distributions like Thunder are part of the vision that founders of the D8 media initiative defined 2 years ago. I am very happy to see our vision slowly become reality.

Thunder heavily depends on many contributed modules and it is fair to say that there would be no Thunder without them. Some of them were built as part of the D8 media initiative and I think we should give credit to many contributors that invested huge amounts of work into it. Besides many volunteers we had some organizational sponsors/contributors too: NYC Camp who funds media sprints every year, Examiner.com who funded 1-1.5 developer in last 12-14 months and MD Systems media initiative program at the end of 2015.

I think that all of them deserve some credits.

For more info check:

Imon (not verified):

It is a great effort and should inspire other publishers to use it.

I also want to address that service providers do contribute when the opportunity presents itself. But most of the time the IP of solutions that a service provider builds do not belong to them and they can't share that back to the community.

Regarding using a distribution to build an enhanced solution that might ultimately diverge from the origin ends up being a gamble. Because, you might end up fighting with the modifications of the distribution. So if someone is happy with what it offers out of the box that is all good. But if it requires modifications then most of the time it is better not to get restricted by using a distribution.

John Dosic (not verified):

I already retweeted this post a couple of days ago but had to come back and say something. I really like your attitude on the whole matter, "I believe that publishers shouldn't compete through CMS technology, but through strong content and brands" - I feel the same way, people these days focus so much on CMS and technology in general instead of paying attention to their own brands and quality content. The most important thing every customer wants is actually that - THE CONTENT. We want it to be unique, to be available and above all to be good! Maybe with this "innovation" from Burda we will be getting more of that. Also with it Drupal will be given a heap of opportunities and possibilities to spread and conquer new markets. I can't wait to see how this goes and where it "leads" Drupal in the future!

Troy Anderson (not verified):

It is good news for Drupal in general and smaller media houses. However, with such distributions, there has been a problem of they not been maintained or lack of further development, leaving end users in a limbo, the example being Open Publish for Drupal 7. Lightning is another content editor based distribution on Drupal 8. I personally think there should be some sort of collaboration between these two and build one better distribution which will not only benefit the Drupal crowd, but also help market penetration for Drupal as large.