Case Study: New York Journal of Books grows their website with Drupal

The New York Journal of Books is the leading website for free, online-only, original book reviews. Founded in 2009 by Ted Sturtz and Lisa Rojany, NYJB’s reviewer panel includes bestselling and Pulitzer, National Book Award and various other prestigious award-nominated and winning authors, journalists, experienced publishing executives, tenured academics, as well as vastly experienced professionals across a number of disciplines and industries. With this highly credentialed and experienced group, NYJB preserves the tradition of excellence in book critique.

Their vision from the outset featured an elegant, multi-user software system that streamlined the collaboration between reviewers, publishers, publicists, and NYJB staff. But unfortunately their early Drupal developer experience was poor and literally outsourced to Siberia.

Current Operations and Growth Stifled

Before engaging Sagetree, the NYJB team, as noted, had unfortunately partnered with the wrong development shop to help them automate their online book review that from the outset was the very core of their business plan.

NYJB inevitably decided to move to a more capable Drupal shop, one that understood how to fully utilize the power of Drupal rather than continue with a Drupal developer that outsourced to a weak Russian team that failed to utilize the popular Open Source content management system.

To NYJB it had become clear that for the technology underpinning their business model, a project of vast scope, it would be vital to work with a vendor they believed understood and outperformed in deploying Drupal’s open source capabilities with both utility and a certain elegance.

The previous Siberian outsourced development team understood web technologies – HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, etc., but not Drupal. The programmers added their custom code willy-nilly in the system, constructing whatever was easiest  and understood, while bypassing far more solid Drupal solutions. As a result, the system built became a monolithic, inflexible, error-prone, custom piece of programming, locked out of taking advantage of the freely available security and maintenance updates from the Drupal community. Further, due to the poor programming, the website’s traffic was, while still robust due to the excellence of their content, substantially diminished by the state of their site, which in turn affected revenue.

Not Alone

The team at Sage Tree Solutions is familiar with this story. Termed “rescue sites,” these projects arise when a client comes battered and bruised from working with a vendor that understands web technology, but not Drupal. The well-meaning vendor does what they know to produce a passable demonstration of capability. But without the Drupal expertise, the developers end up inserting their custom PHP, CSS, HTML and JavaScript in all the wrong places. The client is given a product that meets the contract’s minimum requirements, but is left with a system that is impossible to update, enhance, or maintain.

It is an unfortunate situation for the Drupal community because the negative experience is at times attributed to Drupal rather than more correctly to a less capable so-called Drupal developer. This is why Sagetree strongly recommends working with a reputable team with a long-proven track record.

MVP: Minimum Viable Product

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. – John Gall, author.

To build NYJB’s vision for their online system, Sage Tree understood that the client had to start with the minimum viable product—the core kernel of their system—to deliver the promise made to their user base.

Another large factor in this project was an extremely accelerated development schedule. The project, with a very late autumn start and rebuilding from the ground up, needed to be finished and invoiced before the end of the year to help the client gain significant tax advantages impossible to replicate if not completed on time.
Ted Sturtz and his team worked with Sagetree to map out the vision for his system, and then identify the smallest subset of features that would allow NYJB to have a viable, and for most visitors a more elegant, website.

(MVP Image Source: by Henrik Kniberg)

Sagetree delivered working long hours in tandem with NYJB. With only the highest priority, yet substantial core features on the task list, the team was able to build out a robust foundation for operations and future growth while maintaining an aggressive development schedule and sensitivity to the client’s budget.

The website was re-architected on Drupal 7 and built on Sagetree’s Drupal solution patterns. Then 14K nodes of content were migrated to the new site and launched before New Year’s.

Solid Foundation to Build on

The new New York Journal of Book’s website has faithfully been serving and helping the company grow their presence and reach.
In addition to a flexible and extendible content architecture supporting their growth, the additional benefits from working with Sagetree include:

  • Faster page load times
  • Better SEO visibility
  • Richer, more elegant user experience
  • Improved Social Media presence
  • Improved book review publishing efficiencies
  • Far more user-friendly than previous build.

By working with Sagetree to improve their book reviewing system and creating a more pleasing user experience, NYJB’s traffic has grown in volume and quality. This growth has led to increased revenue, which has enabled NYJB to self-fund additional improvements to their website.

“I am happy to be a reference for every single client who needs one. . . . For me, Sagetree is the Holy Grail. I am 99% confident that anyone who goes with a different developer has made a mistake. So I’d like you to experience huge growth both because you deserve to and because that means more people will share our experience and not have tech projects go awry.

[It is] awesome to be working with a group of developers who believe in what has from the start been our vision. If there a slight glitch in development (less than 1% experienced with others) I sleep well knowing it will be quickly and permanently solved next day.”
—Ted Sturtz, Founder New York Journal of Books