Magazine Archives as a Growing Asset

Magazine content appears to be moving in two directions at once. On the one hand there is increasing interest in Facebook Instant Articles, Twitter Moments, and Apple’s News app, and at the same time publishers with highly topical magazines are investing in RSS-style apps which deliver a stream of articles (from the web site, or the next issue?) to subscriber’s phones (and iPads).

The jury is out on whether such RSS-style apps can support ambitious subscription prices, perhaps they will only really work in an advertising-driven business model. We shall find out. One of the problems with the RSS-app is that it is very difficult to handle back issues and substantial archives within it. So Exact Editions is finding that publishers are often keen to develop an archival solution, even though their front-issues are moving into the article-stream format. The archive then becomes a valuable, in depth, back-up to the most recent issues.

This is also an opportunity to realise the value in the very substantial back issue archives which the best consumer magazines have. Some publishers have developed their own consumer facing solutions : Vogue, The New Yorker and Esquire are obvious examples. We see this as a very positive tendency, and it may be useful to summarise the steps that a publisher who values his/her archive needs to take:

  1. A valuable archive needs to be in digital format (and securely backed up in several locations under the control of the publisher)
  2. A high quality digital archive can be made by scanning back issues (preferably not ‘bound’ back issues, but for the best quality, issues that will be consumed in the scanning process)
  3. The safest choice for a good quality archive is to have at least 300 dpi scanned PDFs with OCR output. This is probably all that is needed for a long-term preservation policy. But the publisher must make sure that they own and retain the output in these formats.
  4. Knowing what you have got, and then digitally archiving it is the first step. But the publisher needs to develop a strategy for exploiting the potential: Time IncUK have developed a unit that is looking for licensing opportunities from its magazine and comic archives. It is not enough to have great images in your back issues and in your vaults. The images and the magazines and comics need to be exposed if they are to be licensed.
  5. Content that appears on the web site or in the RSS app needs to be archived (of course!), but the printed issues also need to be archived for as long as they are produced. The continuing stream of new issues, adds value to the archive, but it also means that there has to be a process for updating.
  6. Having a magazines complete archive in one app, with a common search engine immediately increases the potential and the visibility of individual issues. The digital archive is much more valuable than a print archive through these network effects.
  7. For many magazines there is an immediate and seriously neglected market for digital subscriptions that should immediately recoup the cost of building the archive: Institutional sales to universities, colleges and corporations. The best magazines with strong archives will recoup the cost of digitising their archive many times over by promoting and selling institutional subscriptions. Exact Editions can help them to do that in ways which preserve the brand and enhance it.
  8. Finally, the magazine’s archive is almost certainly richer and more varied than anybody currently realises. You need to build it to find that out.

There is gold in those back issues


Searching the complete archive of African Business

Exact Editions is busily exploiting a market that magazine publishers need to be aware of: searchable archives. Selling institutional access to large scale magazine archives is a viable and profitable market. Annual subscriptions for an institution should be pitched at between 5 and 50 times the price of an individual subscription, i.e. from the low hundreds to the low thousands as an annual price; and digital access to a complete magazine archive is a highly attractive proposition for universities or research bodies that need the information in the magazine. Libraries are increasingly focussing on digital resources that can be accessed over the site-wide network, researchers and students need to access stuff across the network. They are not necessarily walking into the library any more, so librarians who might have collected printed issues are now pushing for digital access. Experience suggests that digital subscriptions to magazine archives will be more valuable, and will be more fully exploited if the archives are: (a) searchable (b) reproduced exactly as they were printed (c) complete (d) delivered to institutional networks across all platforms (e) available at a higher price for permanent access.

Exact Editions has been in this market for some years — and one of the most successful institutional titles no longer has regular print issues, but the institutional sale continues and is still increasing. This success has encouraged Exact Editions to give institutional markets a major focus and is encouraging publishers to build a complete archive which can then be sold to universities and corporations. As well as working with the publishers for whom Exact Editions already develops apps (for the web, iOS and Android) they are also able to work with publishers that wish to ‘roll their own’ apps or who even may not choose to sell digital subscriptions to individuals. An important step and a big investment for Exact Editions has been to develop a fast and cloud-based process for enhancing and converting PDF files to the database format. Over the last year they have improved the systems so that a partially hand-crafted process has become a primarily automated and ‘over night’ solution. There are still costs in the conversion process and it is rarely possible to convert a large collection of files for free, but a process that used to cost $20/30 per item, can now come in around the $4/5 mark.

Magazine publishers are instinctively aware of the value of their archives, and some of the biggest and best brands have independently produced complete archives of their backfile. The New Yorker has for some years had an excellent and complete archive of their back issues, Vogue (USA) have produced a complete archive and recently Esquire released a complete archive, over 1000 issues, which individuals can subscribe to at $4.99 a month or $45 for an annual subscription. Exact Editions is delighted to see these major and iconic publications offering individual subscriptions to the consumer audience for whom the magazines were primarily produced, but they are none of them selling institutional subscriptions. And at this stage of the market, the institutional and corporate sector may be the biggest opportunity for complete archives, as Daryl Rayner, founder and Managing Director of Exact Editions says: “Selling subscriptions to institutions is a completely different business than selling to individuals. We have found that institutions expect some standardisation in delivery, cross-platform access and reliable support and searchability. There is no point hoping that institutions will subscribe to your website if its not meeting their expectations. Libraries don’t want to have a new interface for each publication that they take on board. At Exact Editions we are steering a middle course so that the magazine brand can retain and control its audience and at the same time take advantage of the systems that universities and corporate networks will require.There are other players who reach the university market with aggregated solutions, but for the biggest and best brands, we say that a magazine needs to be presented as a resource in its own right, not lumped in with 25 other politics and literary titles from the middle of the 20th century”.

Exact Editions now has the capacity to process and build large archives, quickly and efficiently and they have just released or are in the process of finishing complete archives for:


Exact Editions will advise any publisher on the potential value of their archive, and will only commit database resources to titles for which they are confident that there is a genuine market. Ms. Rayner puts it this way: “The best consumer magazines will have an institutional market if they are genuinely at the top of their class, and we would rather work for the very best skate-boarding magazine that has a 30 year archive than for a fashion or car magazine that is me-too. There are plenty of consumer titles that capture tons of social and cultural history. Those are the titles that will do best from selling a complete archive.”

Most of the titles that are using the Exact Editions platform are sold to institutions for an annual subscription, based on their ‘enrolment’. This is a statistic that every college library tracks reliably and it means that large universities pay a lot more than small colleges. Exact Editions is in this market for the long-term and for some of the titles they are encouraging the publishers to offer a license for Perpetual Access, at a higher ‘one-off’ price. As Daryl says “This means that we have to shoulder additional costs and responsibilities for the future, but for truly important works of record preserved access is essential”.


The World of Fine Wine complete archive

Magazines with a complete and rich archive often have considerable interest for individual subscribers and Exact Editions is keen to provide services to associations which have information-rich magazines for a large membership. Exact Editions has a strong advantage in this area as it is the only app/web platform that can deliver magazines equally well through browsers and apps for devices. This is a somewhat technical issue, but it also follows that Exact Editions can provide a service to institutions and corporates but simultaneously with the same database to individuals and enthusiasts. For some consumer titles this is a key opportunity. One of the archives that is just about to be released is a complete record of The Numismatist stretching back to the 1880s, for the American Numismatists Association and its 50,000 members. This is one title where there is undeniably  a lot of gold in the back issues.

Exact Editions and iOS 9

iOS 9 is full of enhancements that are beneficial to our digital readers.

A new feature of the iOS 9 update is that you can add pages to your notes app, from whatever title you are reading. Simply tap the Share button to add any page to a new or existing note. 

Notes works with iCloud, so you can also access your notes no matter which device you’re using.

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The Slide Over feature of iOS 9 also means that you can open a second app without leaving the one you’re already in. 

This means you can quickly browse the web, or jot something down in a note. Or you can refer back to pages that you shared to your notes earlier.

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These multi-tasking features allow our readers to engage with their favourite magazines in a more productive way. 

Poetry Wales Digital Edition now available!

Poetry Wales is now available to download as an app or online


Poetry Wales is a magazine with an international reputation for excellent poetry, features and reviews, exploring Welsh poetry in its diversity. 


A magazine open to tradition and experimentation, it offers a fantastic platform for the best contemporary poetry. Click here to subscribe. 


Reading Magazines: Down, Horizontal or Deep?

This has been a quiet summer in the magazine industry. Sprinkled with some encouraging news, for example, from the sale of 50% of The Economist for a price which values the whole group at well over $1 billion. The Economist Group incorporates a successful consultancy as well as a top tier magazine, but the magazine is the key element of the brand and a big part of the value in the group. So that is a very strong valuation in difficult times.

There is a marked uncertainty in the magazine industry about its future and a lack of confidence about the direction that digital magazines should be taking. Most of the mainstream consumer magazine publishers that I have spoken to, admit that print is steadily on the way out and the future is digital. Yet there is no established consensus about how digital magazines should work. Are apps the answer? Should we be investing in better web-sites? Shopping and e-commerce? Programatic advertising? Social networks? Subscriptions or micro-payments? All or none of the above? There is no consensus.

There is even a deep uncertainty about the nature of the digital product that is being produced, which amounts to a confusion or disagreement about the direction in which the magazine reader’s experience should flow.

The ‘traditional’ wisdom for digital magazines that we saw emerging with the first iPad apps and with Adobe Creative Suite, is that digital magazines should really scroll and slide. The story should go down and the issue should go across. With each article forming a nice web-like story. With these magazine apps there is both horizontal flow through the issue, but a strong vertical movement as the reader burrows down into the story. This ‘matrix’ model of how to read a digital magazine issue actually creates enormous problems for editorial and design work-flow and especially for the increasing variety of display devices that need to be accommodated. The across+down model of how to read an issue really is problematic.

So there has been increasing interest in a yet more horizontal view of how to read magazines. We can call this the Flipboard model. According to this ideology, the way we want to interact with digital magazines is much like our interaction with printed magazines in a dentist’s waiting room, of course with more choice and speed, and digital elegance. We pick up a stack of magazine-type sources and then rapidly flip through them, snacking on stories as we go.  We need a lot of magazines for this model of magazine reading, and with this heap of assets we can make a unique solution for each reader. The production of individual magazine issues can be hived off to a web-style production method (each publisher can look after her own workflow as long as they pump out an RSS feed) and through the Flipboard as many brands or issues as each individual user wishes to “read/subscribe-to” can be accommodated through RSS aggregation. This proposal might be great for the user in that it enables a high degree of customisability by interest. Further Flipboard produced a very impressive app and a technically elegant but rather agnostic design solution for magazine content; but, and it is a big ‘but’, there has been so far zero evidence that Flipboard consumption can generate significant revenues for publishers. It will be very interesting to see whether the Apple News app (coming very soon to an iOS device near you) will be able to prove that this horizontal aggregation can generate sustainable revenues for publishers.  My hunch: the Apple News app might turn out to work nicely for iOS users and for Apple. If it does, that will probably not be good news for Flipboard, and it will not necessarily be great news for magazine publishers.

So what is the other reading model that digital magazines should be exploring? The dimension that these rival reading models have tended to ignore is the dimension of time. Perhaps the most unique and characteristic feature of the print magazine industry is that it has been a wonderful way of getting consumers to jump on a publishing train. Think about this word:


it is almost a technical term and it is not a buzz word, but it strikes to the core of the magazine business (because the money flow is and should be periodical) and to heart of the reading experience (because the happy reader will return — to the next issue). At Exact Editions we believe that the periodical nature of the magazine business is fundamental and our digital solutions aim to unlock this potential. Exact Editions apps are unusual in supporting arbitrarily large archives and offering search across all back issues for each magazine subscription that a consumer takes on board. This we can call Reading Deep. Nobody says that you have to read the whole of a magazine, and when you get a complete magazine, including all its back issues, in your subscription, there may be more of it available than you can read. But it is all there and it can all be searched, and this brings the consumer a new kind of digital reading experience.


We do not claim that Reading Deep, through which subscribers have access to all available issues and Complete Archives, right back to issue 1,  are the ideal solution for all magazines. Nor do we think that there will, or should be, one dominant platform for reading all magazines, but we do think that magazine publishers are in many cases sitting on a treasure trove that they have yet to unlock. So we were pleased to see the new CEO of Time Inc UK has also got the archive bug:

(Marcus Rich) has been spending a lot of time buried in the company’s vast archives looking through comics. His rummaging isn’t driven by nostalgia, but by a belief that the key to Time Inc’s future could lie at least partly in the past.

“Downstairs we have this unbelievable archive of titles, some dating back to the 1800s. I’ve been down there on numerous occasions,”

“So Tiger and Jag, Valiant, characters like Sexton Blake and Billy Bunter. There is a lot of substance in that archive and I’ve been looking at opportunities with new technology to bring some of that content to market in different ways. I am fascinated about the value of content, new and old alike.”  Guardian: Interview with Time Inc UK’s Marcus Rich 


This summer we have announced the completion of several brilliant archives, including African Business and The World of Fine Wine. More are coming.