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.