Burl Ives on Digital Subscriptions


News organisations are gradually realising that subscription or reader membership solutions are the only way of making a commercially sustainable digital news service work, what hope is there for ordinary magazines and radio stations in clawing back advertising revenues from Google and Facebook if even Yahoo has to throw in the towel? The near impossibility of advertisement-backed news and reporting has some important cultural and political implications. Since Exact Editions has been successfully selling digital subscriptions to magazines for over 10 years we think it useful to summarise some of the lessons that we have learned. Rather conveniently most of these crucial issues are concisely summarised by the Burl Ives Donut Song.

  1. Its written on the rainbow in letters made of gold. The most crucial point is that delivering a digital subscription reliably and consistently is something that readers and consumers will pay for. A properly designed web service delivers via this arc-shaped rainbow, web subscriptions consistently to all your subscribers. These subscribers buy their renewable subscriptions and these transactions accumulate gradually and they are made of gold.
  2. When you walk through life you will have no cares if you walk the lines and not the squares. Mr Ives was really onto something here. Walking the lines means giving full focus and attention to the editions and issues of which your publication is concerned, and yes there will be gaps whilst you stretch between your regular editions. The publisher has to make sure that the digital editions are at least as good and attractive, as complete and as beautiful as the print editions which have previously established the newspaper or magazine’s reputation. As Digiday puts it “push away from the trap of commoditised online news”
  3. Watch the donut not the hole. The thing is, by concentrating on the lines in the right way, we now have much bigger donuts. One of the great advantages of a digital edition and a digital subscription delivered to all paid up consumers is that the whole archive is available and searchable. So a subscriber is getting new issues every week, month or quarter, but they are also getting continuous access to a fabulous archive a donut that imperceptibly swells as each new issue is added to it.
  4. Written on the rainbow there’s wisdom to behold. Once we have this donut properly baked, sugared and sized up, most consumer publishers will find that there is a large and profitable market for institutional subscriptions. Magazines such as Crafts, Gramophone, Dazed & Confused, have through their rich and extensive archive a database of considerable value to universities and research institutions. Printed magazines and newspapers have been scrupulously collected and shelved by educational libraries, but they are much more valuable and useful when they are databased and delivered digitally on a campus-wide basis. Yes indeed archives can be made of gold.
  5. Alligators dance, the bulldogs all wear pants. This is the best bit of the song. If you watch the lines and not the squares, if the publisher delivers an archive as well as a set of monthly issues, year by year, it turns out that the subscribers (institutions as well as individuals) need the subscription to continue. They want the renewals just as much as the publisher wants and comes to depend on them. Watch the donut and not the hole.

Next time Woody Guthrie on the Grand Coulee Dam. “River while you are rambling you can do some work for me”.

Open Access finally arrives….


For more than 15 years the Open Access movement has been striving and promising to make all scientific and scholarly literature freely available to “users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.” Budapest Open Access Initiative.

There is a growing awareness that Open Access really is going to happen after all these years, and to a curious degree it is happening in a much less regulated and decentralised way than might have been expected. Here are a by no means exhaustive list of the trends and changes that are bringing Open Access about (I give this list in no special order of importance):

(1) Sci-Hub — the increasingly popular, free, online database of millions of scientific papers that is run from Kazakhstan without publisher permission.

(2) The largest medical charities, the Wellcome Trust, the Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and others are now requiring that the science they fund shall be published promptly and fully as open access. These billionaire charities are following through by setting up their own direct publication channels to facilitate and guarantee open access.

(3) Innovative startups in the scientific and research areas are building their business with guerilla forms of open access publishing: ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Google Scholar and others are persuading researchers and scholars to publish, or make freely available through their own branded web pages, the research and the articles they may be publishing through conventional journals.

(4) Some long-standing Open Access publishing initiatives are growing steadily: such as Cornell-based Arxiv, CERN-based SCOAP, PLOS, Scientific Reports and many others.

(5) The established commercial publishers have found it difficult to adapt their model to the requirements of Open Access publishing and they seem increasingly to be working on the assumption that Open Access publishing will arrive (indeed Scientific Reports, mentioned under (4) is a service developed by Springer/Nature).

None of these developments need be terminal for the existing model of STM periodical publishing, but taken together they look like a profound change is coming.

While Open Access is inexorably and increasingly decisively happening, it is not turning out to be a simple process. Ten or fifteen years ago, evangelists working towards the open access goals where mostly convinced that there would be a reasonably intelligible process of transition, whereby major scientific journals would somehow switch to a new open model (gold), or they would be replaced willy nilly by a system of open repositories (green). This is not the way the system is evolving. We are instead seeing a very diverse and ingenious explosion of initiatives moving in different directions and with somewhat contradictory expectations: funders want research results to be published as soon as possible, but they also want to maintain editorial standards; researchers want their papers to appear in the most prestigious journals but they also want to make them freely available from their own web pages; there are compelling reasons for publishing all the data, but then there are also legitimate privacy concerns etc. From the trend of recent years, it seems very probable that Open Access will continue to evolve under the pressure of funders, governments, researchers, libraries and indeed publishers without their being a generally agreed and desired outcome. A high degree of pandemonium is to be expected.

Publishers and libraries have been reacting to this development by increasingly investing in or developing services which assist or organise open access publishing in various indirect ways. Services which facilitate discovery, or the communication of research or metrics which help to assess the quality and influence of published articles, etc.

If there is an enormous variety in the profusion of Open Access research and scholarship in the coming decade, it is very probable that there will be increasing confusion about the format and the reliability of this content. One consequence of this will be that services that can provide stable and consistent resources will even more be valued. For Exact Editions, with its commitment to preserving full and complete archives to magazines the message has to be “keep calm and carry on”. We will also be working to ensure that collections of books with complex and rich designs are also preserved exactly as they were printed.


Digital Libraries and solutions for digital readers

Libraries are clearly becoming more digital, but today we get a reminder that physical books and periodicals are still key assets. Cambridge University has started work on a repository to hold millions of the books and journals in its collection. £17 million to construct a facility which will hold books that can be provided to readers within a day’s notice.

Preserving the physical collection is a vital task, especially for research libraries like that at the University of Cambridge that have priceless collections of books that are in many cases very rare. But the task of digital preservation is also important and this is an area in which Exact Editions is focussing its efforts. Exact Editions tackles the task of preservation in four distinct ways:

  1. As our name declares, we believe that magazines and books need to be preserved in a format that matches as closely as possible to their print format and arrangement. So the pages should look exactly the same in the print and the digital version. This matters because digital versions that do not faithfully match the appearance and layout of the print originals are failing in the task of preservation.
  2. The books and magazines should be searchable and instantly available. The searchability issue is critical, it is one of the biggest  advantages that comes from having books in a digital format, and digital stuff that is not searchable and findable through URLs is dark matter on the web. Books that are instantly searchable and retrievable are much more useful than books that can only be handled with care, and accessed with difficulty.
  3. One of the most difficult issues when considering the issue of preservation is that of file formats. It is a racing certainty that in 20, or 40 years time we will be reading via software with devices and programs that we cannot at this stage begin to imagine or guess at. There is no way that we can predetermine the formats and solutions that have yet to be discovered, but a responsible platform can at least aim to handle all the content that it manages in a consistent and uniform way. Furthermore we work with Portico to provide a backup service for any resources that we supply to libraries on a perpetual access basis.
  4. Finally, an important step in the direction of preserving the books and periodicals which have been created in a pre-digital economy, is to make them as enjoyable and in some ways even easier to read than their print sources. Again, making the digital resources exactly like the original printed pages, is one crucial condition, but it is also important that the context of the whole publication is also preserved or even enhanced, and in the case of magazines that have been published serially over decades or even a century, this poses some new problems. We do not expect our readers to be pulling hefty volumes off a digital shelf. With the complete archives that Exact Editions is now supporting, the previous years (or decades) can be accessed through a stacking interface — as it were piling up the back issues on the virtual space of the reader’s screen; and with the collections of books that we now offer to the library community we arrange the collections, in analogous fashion. In this way the reader can move very  easily from one book to another, or if the reader prefers can open as many of the volumes as can be laid out in the tabbed interface of a web browser.

Carcanet books arrayed




Opera magazine with issue stacks



Banipal Releases Their Complete Digital Archive!

Banipal is proud to announce the launch of a complete digital archive of its back issues, from Number 1, February 1998, to the current issue Banipal 57 –­ Syria in the Heart. As a digital subscriber you can now enjoy unlimited access to 19 years of translations, reviews, interviews and features for the duration of your subscription. 


Digital subscribers will now be able to access not only the long out-of-print issues from the early days, but discover the whole new world of prose and poetry by Arab authors that Banipal opened up through translations, revealing the rich tapestry of literature being written by hundreds of authors, stretching from Syria, Iraq and Palestine, through the Gulf from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudia Arabia to Oman and Yemen, and round the southern Mediterranean to the north African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and southwards down to Sudan.


The archive is a fascinating and invaluable resource and is fully searchable by issue, by decade or by the entire archive.

Subscribe to Banipal.

For institutional subscriptions, please click here

More than the sum of its parts

Exact Editions is now working with publishers to offer libraries and institutions subscriptions to collections of books. Carcanet, MuseumsEtc and Dunedin Academic Press are now joined by a Collection of 48 Graphic Guides from Icon. Collections using the Exact Editions platform have some important advantages not found with simple groupings of eBooks or PDF files. The Collection is highly browse-able, in the sense that it is easy to flip between different books in the Collection and to view all the double page spreads from a title in a grid layout , and it fully and easily searchable. So individual titles are searchable and the group as a whole is searchable (and if several Collections are accessible in the account, all those Collections will be searchable).

IM ggCollecition.PNG

Array of front covers — wide coverage

Searching the books is context sensitive, in that if you are at the collection page, the search will default to the collection as a whole, whereas within an individual title, the search will by default be for the book. The search window hints at the scope with greyed label.


Nietzsche book – falling out with Schopenhauer and Wagner

The Graphic Guides from Icon books have been phenomenally successful in print and they transfer very well to a digital format in which every page can be linked to or cited through social media. These factors suggest that the series is ideally suited to being a campus wide reference and teaching resource, with a multi-user unlimited usage licensing model at base.


Click the image to see the tweet

These Graphic Guides are a popular library item in their print form, they will become more popular and more useful as a resource which can be always available (24X7) throughout the campus, and the fact that they can be searched and easily browsed and flipped through is surely a digital bonus. I spent some time this morning reading the Postmodernism title and was considerably enlightened. Next I will go for Derrida


Derrida in the ICON Graphic Guides Collection