Magazines in time

When magazines become digital their relationship to time is profoundly altered. Paradoxically their relationship with time and our experience of time changes because the magazines themselves, even with a complete archive, are relatively unchanged; they change much less than other forms of digital media in the transition to digital. Magazines in print, with their issue by issue publication pattern, are good at trapping time and when they are transformed into digital databases they store our culture in ways that make the past very accessible and reusable. In the 19th and 20th century, magazines, with their regular new issues, were ways of gaining and consuming current information. But digital magazines are becoming increasingly indispensable as ways of preserving current information so that it becomes part of our cultural record for the present and the future. Digital archives are tools for accessing the past even more than they are silos for preserving the back issues.

Librarians classify magazines, along with newspapers, annuals, weeklies, reviews, journals and proceedings as periodicals (and note all the temporal connotations we find in those classificatory terms) and they are extremely useful in a print culture because they are a source of predictable and locatable news. The latest issue of a magazine carries news, and the previous issues are quite likely to be discarded even if, by the keenest collectors, they will be kept, probably in an ordered stack or on a shelf, so that they can be consulted to remind us of what was news then.

Early issues of Opera shelved

Fifty years ago magazines were very good at bringing their subscribers news of the latest developments in a field of specialist interest: for example Opera. The current issue of the magazine would have been urgently awaited and it would, for many subscribers, have been a primary source of current information. However the back issues would be relatively inaccessible (indeed quite possibly stored in the attic if there were too many of them) and they would have been very hard to search, so the current issue was the main focus of attention. This is not how digital magazines now work. Very few opera lovers will today rely primarily on a monthly magazine for news. We have so many more instant resources: blogs, Twitter and social media, Operabase, Google search. YouTube, and all the forms of live broadcasting. Magazines were fast moving sources of news 50 years ago, now, by contrast, they are relatively slow moving and that turns out to be a good thing. For their reports and reviews may be more carefully published than too-fast digital news. Magazines that are careful with their reputation are perhaps trusted more than ever before; no longer fast, magazines are a slow-ish medium that commands the respect we give to reliable sources.

We noted that magazines as experienced fifty years ago were relatively inaccessible and barely searchable. But now a digital magazine with a databased archive is easily browse-able all the way through and down to the first issue. We can view the archive in the Exact Editions system at the top level by navigating an array of front covers:

The early issues of the Opera archive

or we can click through, by decade or year and then issue, into a page view of individual spreads:

The first pages of the first issue of Opera

This point and click interface to a complete archive of the magazine is incomparably easier for browsing and exploration than cartons full of 850 individual issues of the print magazine.

Not only is a digital magazine archive much more browse-able, it will surely be fully searchable:

Searching the Opera archive for Montserrat Caballé

The curious result is that magazines have been transformed from being a source of current information into a much deeper and long-lasting source of memory and record. The current issue, in 2019, will still be for many subscribers the ‘easy way in’ but the full archival database gives us something that a print resource cannot match. Digital magazines gradually acquire a cumulative authority, largely because they are a way of taking the past with us. We may not need them so much for the instant opinion, or the latest rumour, but they are rolling up our past and our present to make an ongoing record for our cultural present and for our enjoyment in the future. It is this potential for carefully archived magazine resources to become even more valuable and informative in an accumulation of content that should be one of the most exciting developments of the digital turn that all our media are now taking.

Taking our Opera example, we find that the Opera Twitter account is happily mining the riches of the archive to chime with present interests:

Commemorating the anniversary of a remarkable refugee composer Ernst Hermann Meyer.

The wonderful story of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé

Or simply reminding us of the greatest diva with a remembered front cover

When a Twitter account uses a historic archive to comment on new developments or to commemorate forgotten composers or unforgettable stars (Callas) it is reversing the normal role of the archive, which is no longer a mere repository of old news but is in course of becoming a source for new thoughts and new interpretations. The future of the past, and from the past, is one of the things we can expect from digital magazines, echoing  T S Eliot (Four Quartets):

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Semantic Capital and Magazine Archives

Luciano Floridi, an Italian Professor at Oxford, is one of the leading philosophers of information. He is also interested in libraries and archives and has recently proposed a valuable use for the concept of “semantic capital” in relation to archives. His explanation was given as a lecture to the National Archives at Kew, and is available from their site.

I propose to summarise and simplify his explanation of “semantic capital” and apply it to the topic of digital magazine archives (very close to our heart at Exact Editions). For our purposes semantic capital is:

  • a stock of content growing and extended through time (a sequence of magazine issues published on paper monthly and held in library stacks would be a perfect example)

Chicago stacks By Ndshankar  Wikimedia commons 

  • the stock of content is held in a stable form where it can be subjected to new readings and new interpretations (a contemporary digital database of a magazine issue by issue, with new issues appearing as they are published, for example)
  • the content should be held in a canonical form so that new readings or interpretations can be compared with previous readings (so it is rather important that the content should be complete and searchable. It would be inconvenient if the digital archive was different in different institutions. Leaving out the advertisements or the illustrations from a magazine archive will not do)

Advertisements in the magazine Dazed are semantic capital

  • finally the semantic capital, is truly “capital” to the extent that this stock of preserved stuff can be used for new and unexpected applications. The capital can appreciate in value or depreciate, through damage or obscurity. It can be hoped that the capital will grow and so creates more cultural value.
  • From our point of view it is this last point that is key. In a digital culture, usable semantic capital needs to be searchable, cite-able, re-uasable, and share-able. Our print culture survives but it is vulnerable and needs to be transformed into reliable digital resources. Magazine archives in fact exist in great profusion, they are usually to be found as bound volumes in the offices of the publisher, or sometimes in boxes ‘off site’. They are also found as print issues held in institutional libraries — but in this form they are almost useless to contemporary students or researchers who increasingly depend on digital access to library resources. The point is that in a digital culture, cultural resources and assets now need to be digital if they are to be truly useful. Cultural capital is simply much more valuable if it is digital. I am not sure that we have yet recognised — magazine publishers especially — how much long term value can be created by moving content to a digital archive. Magazines archived and digitised in an appropriate and intelligent way will become much more valuable than the print-only source, and this is where the third point is also vital. The digital version really should be canonical so that very little will have been lost in the transfer from paper to digital memory. This is a very important and urgent point because the magazines that are digitised and databased whilst they are still published in print form are much more likely to survive and to be used in our growing digital culture.

    Print archives from magazines that have ceased publication or which have morphed into websites or where the ownership and provenance of content is unknown will very likely be lost. Archiving magazines is a way of preserving their value — not only for the long term, but now for the present, for the readers and the libraries who will be able to use and enjoy semantic capital that we have to an extent been ignoring whilst it is held only in paper formats. In a digital culture, semantic capital is of great potential value, for this reason we should be optimistic about the potential for digital culture, but it is also much more fragile so we should be careful not to neglect it. As Floridi points out ‘if semantic capital is not used productively it depreciates’.

Digital Memory is Shaping our Future

Chauvet

Painting from the Chauvet cave shaping the Paleolithic memory (and now ours). via Wikimedia commons

I have borrowed the title for this blog from the sub-title of a great book When We Are No More by Abby Smith Rumsey. And the subtitle is the critical part of her book’s message. Because we are entering an age of digital culture and digital society, the digital archives and memories that we are now creating will be crucial sign-posts and tent-pegs for our digital future. We often think about archives as guides to the past, but Rumsey’s claim is that they are even more pointers to our future. This is especially the case for digital culture because it is the digital objects, the digital resources and memories that survive from one year to the next, from one generation to the next, that will shape the next generation’s view of itself and its place.

Abby Smith Rumsey writes very clearly but she is also a great presenter, so I recommend her Google talk on the subject of her book. She emphasises how digital archiving is still a neglected field, and that we are quite beholden to the work of public bodies, private enthusiasts or charitable undertakings some of them making crucial investments: for example, Carl Haber saving music and ethnographic voices, the Internet Archive, or Europeana.

HaberVoice

The camera used with IRENE software by Carl Haber to reconstitute Alexander Graham Bell’s voice from physical traces too fragile for contact recovery

There are many private efforts and individuals working to save stuff and it was good to see, a few days ago, a mention of the Hyman magazine archive in the New York Times. This is very much a solo effort and a collection that now exceeds any reasonable attic — since it now occupies a south London warehouse with its 120,000 issues from 5,000 titles. Hyman’s open-armed effort is admirable, but as a private venture it is not easy to see how it will evolve towards a model for widespread access. The team are gradually digitising their collection, but with copyrights largely in place it is unlikely that the archive will be able to provide full scale access to scholars and enthusiasts. Of course, Exact Editions welcomes such a private initiative, but our interest in preserving and making digital archives accessible has a different model. We are showing that digital archives can make money for the publishers who are sitting on them. We believe that the archive should grow and move into the future along with the magazine, issue by issue. New issues become back issues, and the future is shaped by issues that came before.

We take seriously Abby Smith Rumsey’s claim that digital memory is shaping our future. The future for magazines is certainly going to be digital — and the back issues and the coming front issues are also digital. Very few of today’s magazine editors, publishers and designers can tell us what the shape of this digital future is. But it is coming. Putting a magazine’s print archive into a digital format is one obvious step towards defining and shaping what that future will be. This was something that almost all magazine publishers missed 10 and then 8 years ago when the iPhone and then the iPad was launched. Even now we sometimes have to persuade publishers that their archive is of great value (though many editors know that, but find it hard to express).

Exact Editions is helping publishers to make this step into the future by capturing the past and the evolving present, and odd as it may seem one of the strongest cases for making a magazine archive right now, is that archives sell. At his point the previously sceptical publisher shifts her gaze and clears her throat. Complete archives are especially important in an educational or research context. Not every magazine is of use to scholars, students and researchers (yet, and here our publisher reaches for a glass of water) but for those that are, the institutional library market is a promising source of additional revenue and brand visibility. Digital magazines can be easily searched and they are more accessible and so more valuable, and much more useful, than the print copies that are still important and carefully stored on library shelves and stacked in off-site repositories. Magazines are obviously full of data, not just stories, pictures and advertisements, but data about subjects and arts that we find perpetually interesting. Digital data has value. Making magazines digital and complete is a way of enriching the past and the future. As Rumsey says “Today we see magazines as natural facts. We do not see them as memory machines with lives of their own, though that is exactly what they are. As soon as we began to print our thoughts in those hard-copy memory machines they began circulating and pursuing their own destinies. Over time we learned how to manage them and share them, and ensure that they carried humanity’s conversations to future generations. We can develop the same skills to manage and take responsibility for digital memory machines” (Rumsey When We Are No More p. 177, marginally edited — where she says ‘books’ I have put ‘magazines’). Magazine archives are digital memory machines stuffed full of data and art that we can project into the future and that can become more widely available and useful.

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Applying Webstamp the software Exact Editions uses to ‘proof’ and manage digital editions

Preservation of magazine content and its accessibility

Reading_Room_of_the_Boston_Public_Library

Reading-Room of the Boston Public Library, 1871 Wikimedia Commons

Clifford Lynch has just published a thoughtful and carefully researched article on Stewardship in the “Age of Algorithms”. Lynch’s central claim is that the web, algorithm-based institutions and our contemporary social media are in practical terms impossible to archive and preserve via traditional approaches. The traditional approaches that he has in mind are ‘format migration’ and ‘emulation’, but he appears to suggest that these are alternative approaches when they are essentially complementary. In fact one cannot have format migration without emulation, and any software emulation requires appropriate file format inputs. Lynch gives us a handy explanation of the format migration strategy:

The traditional models of digital archiving are twofold: format migration and emulation. Both, of course, assume a substrate, which is now relatively well understood and implemented with a fairly high degree of confidence, assuming reasonably consistent and continuous funding, of bit-level preservation by migration from one storage technology to the next as necessary [19]. The first approach, format migration, is best suited to “document-like” objects: PDFs, Microsoft Word files, audio, video, XML, JPEG, TIFF, etc. Here the idea is that, as standards, or de facto standards, gradually evolve and the ecosystem to deal with those types of files shift, curators will migrate the file formats, but this strategy is not necessarily as simple as it seems. New file formats are often not isomorphic to older ones. Formats may be proprietary and/or undocumented, and even objects claiming to conform to well-known standards may not implement these standards correctly or may add proprietary extensions. Lynch:Stewardship in the “Age of Algorithms”

While this may be a small correction to Lynch’s overall argument, it points to an important consequence. In digital culture, preservation — even of traditional cultural objects — is not a closed process. Once we aim to preserve analog or primarily physical cultural objects (for example photographs or books or magazines) in digital repositories and databases we are implicitly committed to an ongoing task of enabling and facilitating new forms of access. Precisely because our digital culture and our innovative technological mix will be inventing new ways of interacting with and enjoying these traditional cultural objects. Nor is it a settled or obvious question how these improvements and developments should be pursued.

This need for an ongoing commitment to preservation struck at Exact Editions very early in our development. We firmly believe that magazines, books and newspapers are all becoming more digital, but we also took it as an article of faith that back issues and archives have important and valuable content that should be available to digital subscribers, so our solutions whether through web browsers or via apps on smartphones and tablets have always ensured that archives and back issues are accessible to the subscribers of current issues. Just as the software of a digital magazine has to welcome and display each new issue, so its database should reach back and awaken back issues that in a print culture are usually filed inertly and inaccessibly on shelves or forgotten heaps.

The digital transition is nevertheless very real. Although the magazines that users read on their branded apps, are in one way strictly equivalent to the printed versions that they might have read in the Boston Library public reading room or Viennese cafes in the 19th century (with those bamboo frames that we still sometimes see) yet the reading experience and the arrangement of the digital editions is very different. It is only with a digital app or a web browser that one could expect to see all the decades or years of a magazine’s issues tidily piled up on a virtual desk. This stacking of issues emulates in a virtual form the tidy arrangement which would be quite hard to achieve with printed issues: and from most points of view it is a much handier solution than the collection of previous issues in carton sorters.

IMG_1116.JPG

Slightly Foxed — incomplete archive on a physical desktop

Digital archiving even of historic and contemporary print formats is not easy; but it is both obviously possible and culturally necessary. The 12 complete magazine archives which are showcased in celebration of International Digital Preservation Day #IDPD17 are all growing and their preservation needs in 5 or 10 years time may be unanticipated by their current formats and their existing software. By then we hope to have found out what it is that mixed reality, block chains and machine learning are surely going to teach us. And the archives may in one way look the same, but they may behave a little differently.

 

Use our Search Technology to get the most out of your Subscription

Did you know that your Exact Editions subscription includes unlimited and free access to unique searching tools both online and in the Apps? Ideal for academic research, the technology allows you to quickly locate topics throughout a magazine’s archive. This can be particularly useful for Universities and Libraries, with each of the various functions specifically designed to help readers get the most out of the available content.

To get started, just sign in using your Exact Editions account details and select the title in which you wish to search. To narrow down a search when using one of the Apps, you can select a ‘stack’ to limit results to a particular decade or year. Also using the App, you can try out the search functions before buying a subscription.

Searching1

To make search results more precise, the technology incorporates three of the primary Boolean search operators (explained below). Click here to learn about Boolean search and here for a  more comprehensive list of Boolean functions.

1. Search for a Single Word or Combination of Words

This is as straight forward as it sounds; simply enter words into the field in the top right hand corner of the screen and click ‘Search’. This provides you with a complete list of results within the selected issue, title or time frame. Entering more than one word will bring up all pages that include each of the entered words, for example all pages that include London AND Concerto AND Orchestra:

Searching2

2. Search Using a Dash to Exclude Words

By placing a dash symbol directly before the second word of a search, your results will show all archive pages that display the first word but not the second. For example, entering Philharmonic -Orchestra will bring up all pages that include the word Philharmonic but not the word Orchestra:

Searching3

3. Either or Both: Search Using a Vertical Bar

Entering vertical bars, or ‘pipe’ symbols, into your search activates the “Either or Both” search function. To do this, place the symbol directly before all entered words. For example, searching for |Philharmonic |Concerto will provide you with all pages that include EITHER Philharmonic or Concerto or BOTH of these words.

Searching4

Using a Combination of Boolean Search Functions

If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, you can narrow down your search even further by combining the three functions explained above. For example, combine the Standard Search with the Dash & Vertical Bar functions:

London |Philharmonic |Concerto -Orchestra

Pages MUST include London, EITHER Philharmonic or Concerto or BOTH, EXCLUDES Orchestra

Searching5

Search Using Quotation Marks

Just like searching on Google, you can also use the technology to track down a specific term or phrase mentioned anywhere in the archive by placing the words in the correct order between quotation marks. This function is perfect for finding topic-specific terms instantly:

Searching6

Use the App to Save your Searches as Bookmarks

Finally, once you have completed your search and found what you are looking for, you can save the results as bookmarks for future reference. To save individual pages, simply click on the Actions button in the top left hand corner of the screen, followed by the Bookmarks Icon. This will bring up a new window entitled ‘Add Bookmark’, giving you the possibility to assign it a name and save it. Once this is done, your new Bookmark will appear under the Bookmarks tab for speedy access:

Searching7

To save all search results as Bookmarks, select the option “Bookmark All” which appears at the top of the Search Results window. This will automatically create a new folder within the Bookmarks tab containing your search results:

Searching8

The “Bookmark All” function is particularly useful when, as shown above, a very large number of results is returned. By using this function, you can easily check through and refer back to previous research without having to repeat the process.

Why not take a look at the extensive archives offered by some of our publishing partners? Click on the banners below to visit our Institutional Shop:

1121 back issues:

GramLogo

411 back issues:

LitLogo

389 back issues: 

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To learn more about getting the most out of an archive or database when carrying out research, we suggest consulting this informative piece on Searching Article Databases

If you have any questions about searching in an archive, or if you have any feedback about the functions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by sending an email to support@exacteditions.com.

Happy searching!

March 2015