Preserving magazines

Stacks

Stacks at Doe Memorial Library on the UC Berkeley campus via Wikimedia Commons

The Digital Preservation Coalition a group of mostly British institutions is organising the first International Digital Preservation day, for November 30, 2017. Exact Editions will be contributing to the festivities with a showcase of 12 of the magazines for which we have built and maintain complete digital archives.

The Coalition has wide objectives and supports a host of differing formats and objects worthy of digital preservation, video, sound, museum objects, data in all their myriad shapes and sizes including material that has been hitherto published mainly in print form: newspapers, books and magazines. Exact Editions’ expertise lies in the digitisation and the preservation of magazines. So we focus on this area. And it is quite large enough — we believe that there are tens of thousands of magazines that merit full archives. But we start by noting that all magazines, as with books and newspapers are willy-nilly becoming digital. It is not simply a matter of preserving a digital shadow of a print original.

A generation ago magazines were only digital in small areas of their production (in the 1970s computerised typesetting and a few years later layout), whereas now the process may be thoroughly computerised and some magazines (not yet many) are purely digital from writer to reader. This process has not closely followed the same tracks as newspapers and books. Newspapers as they become digital are aiming to be more multi-edition, much more real-time, and they are embracing video, so becoming more multi-media. Books, on the other hand, have if anything become more author-focused (self-publishing is now the fastest growing part of the market) with strong emphasis on blogs, media events, revenues from audio-books and of course from ebooks. The ebook format has not had much success with magazines and video is seen as an area of major interest for relatively few types of magazine (cuisine and fashion more than literature, sport or politics). So magazines are different. Digital magazines are not behaving like digital newspapers or digital books and yet they have one huge advantage when it comes to making a digital transition.

Magazines are periodicals. Periodicals are published in issues and the issues tend to appear on a predictable regularity. This periodical, recurrent emergence of magazine issues has one terrific advantage for the digital format that magazines now invariably assume. A suitably organised digital magazine can carry its back issues with it. It can grow and it should be refreshed as new issues appear. Digital magazines can be much deeper and they can be much more permanent and continually available than print issues. A digital magazine can, and perhaps should, provide its readers with access to all the available back issues as well as the current number and, as they appear, the forthcoming issues.

Exact Editions has always been driven with the belief that the printed magazine has a strong format, and that the design and layout of the printed and illustrated magazine has to be captured digitally if the reader is to get an acceptable version of the print issues. The company also took an early (and at the time an unusual) decision that subscriptions should be viewed as including access to all available back issues. For this reason searching and arranging back issues in usable layouts and arrays has been part of our basic approach. It was this decision of building a database from earlier issues, forward to the present issue, that gradually encouraged us to build complete archives and to make them available to current subscribers. Since 2012, when with the help of the publisher we completed the archive of Gramophone (90+ years of back issues), we have been on the look out for publishers who want to provide a complete archive for an ongoing publication.

Because Exact Editions is working with publishers who are trying to build a digital audience for issues that are forthcoming, we are highly focussed on making the reading and searching process as attractive and as intuitive as possible. It would not be meeting this challenge simply to archive PDF issues of every issue (though we do encourage our publishing partners to make sure that they do indeed retain PDFs of every issue). We also work with Portico for those magazines that wish to offer Perpetual Access. PDFs are excellent as a solution for simple archival preservation, but an aggregation of 1000+ PDFs is not a user-friendly resource. For this reason the task of preserving a magazine in its entirety, with a complete archive that continues to grow, puts an extra challenge on the goal of preservation. Even when the first issue is enormously different from the current issue, compare the first issue of Gramophone with its current issue (no colour, few illustrations or ads, no links, much shorter), it is vitally important that the reader should be able to search them and approach them in the same way, within a common framework. So preservation is emphatically not just a matter of dealing with the past and with ‘back issues’. We have learned in our work with magazines that front issues become back issues and old formats need to be preserved for new readers. Building the databases and the software that does this efficiently is an ongoing challenge and one which creates an opportunity for new subscribers, and unknown readers.

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The first issue of Gramophone – 1935

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The latest issue of Gramophone

The International Digital Preservation day will understandably have a focus on preservation. But ‘preservation’ has to be pursued in a cultural and an educational context, this is not simply a matter of placing PDF files in digital aspic, secure formaldehyde and verified cotton wool. Exact Editions, as our name suggests, cares deeply about getting the format, the look and feel, the layout and high design all preserved as accurately as possible. But useful preservation is forward looking and has to enable and encourage, reading and research, citation and analysis. At this digital moment and for the foreseeable future this will at least mean making magazines archives available and usable through web browsers and apps for mobile devices, but the task of digital preservation moves forward. The content and the past must be preserved but it should also be useful and readable.  It is perhaps obvious that magazines written by experts such as: Prospect or Art Monthly will be of continuing scholarly interest, but it is even more probable that the back issues and the advertisements of Dazed and the Creative Review will be of great cultural and historical interest to researchers and students of fashion, culture, commerce and design.

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