Are magazines still periodicals?

This question occurred to me when I saw a suggestion that the mooted, not yet launched, Apple magazine aggregating service will include newspaper content:

Earlier this year, Apple got into the magazine business by buying a digital magazine distributor. Now it wants to add daily news to the mix. Peter Kafka at Recode

Well, this is only a rumour and Apple’s new magazine-inspired service has not been launched, but it is surely unthinkable that the big newspapers (New York Times, WSJ, FAZ etc) will allow all their content to be bundled into an Apple service in which they have no direct stake. They have been seeing encouraging success with their own audience building for digital subscribers, and that is bound to be a longer term concern for them. But one can see them offering, via Apple, a premium access to news items and some of their content. So much has news content and news distribution been comodified that a deal for just-in-time stories or streamed articles is surely do-able, and if Apple want those stories I am sure they will be available.

Newspapers can no longer view themselves primarily as edition-based periodicals. Once Google news was possible, newspapers needed to make a decision. Either they were primarily news channels freely available through the web, in which case they would be in perpetual and instant competition with every other free digital news channel, or they had to consolidate their audience around a subscriber base, preferably a subscriber base that would be willing to pay for the content that the editors and journalists formed and curated. But to do this well, to build an audience for news in the digital era the news has to be instantly updated and in real time. Digital newspapers are no longer periodicals, especially if they are behind paywalls.

In their hay-day, periodicals, whether newspapers or magazines could reasonably aim to serve their audience with three distinct functions:

(1) opinion via editorial and articles

(2) news via stories or reports

(3) product or service awareness via advertisements

The publication was literally built from these distinct sources — and the staff also would be segregated into these different teams. This three-fold plait of content, carefully woven into each page and issue, was — as it happens- matched by three distinct and yet corresponding sources of recurring revenue:

(1) subscriptions (content delivered by post, paid for by quarterly or annual subs)

(2) newsstand sales (content delivered by the kiosk paid for episodically by $ £ or cash)

(3) advertisers (who paid for pages of content, in advance, so that they could ‘reach’ readers)

After about AD 2000 this three-pillared system of content packaging and revenue harvesting can no longer be relied on. Digital technology has separated the threads, and the idea of a package which weaves these separate commercial strands into periodical issues, editions that appear on a daily or weekly basis, makes less and less sense.

Advertising is the first pillar of content to be knocked away. Magazines or newspapers of the conventional kind simply do not have the precise targeting and broad audience that is needed to make digital advertising work for consumer content.

Very few magazines have been able to stem the digital tide aimed at ad revenue. There are one or two exceptional examples of magazines that have moved successfully to majority funding from digital ads, but the magazines had to be made into databases to take advantage both of product differentiation and audience differentiation: Auto Trader 25 years ago a rather boring magazine for the second-hand car market in the UK has turned itself into a spectacularly successful and effective transactional platform. It is no longer a periodical but a digital second hand car marriage bureau (sometimes orphange?).

Many newspapers, especially in global centres, decided to become news streaming enterprises with news and comment updated 24X7. Digital papers such as the Guardian or the Washington Post are no longer in any strict sense periodicals, their content is organised primarily for their webservices, their sections are sections of the website and their videos are videos for the digital reader. In consequence, much of their content will not be registered in the daily editions that they still print (for how much longer?).

When it comes to retail distribution: magazines and some newspapers are still uncomfortably dependent on physical newsstand sales. But newsstands, kiosks, are steadily disappearing and supermarkets are not a good alternative. Newspapers or magazines that expect to charge readers for news have recognised the need to find the equivalent of a digital newsstand, and an audience that is willing to pay for better and reliable instant information episodically, in dribs and drabs. Because the news feed has to be continuous (to keep pace with the evolving story) there is little justification for separating the content into artificial ‘issues’ or ‘editions’. So newspapers and newsy magazines have been eager to experiment with new distribution or audience building aggregators (Flipboard, Facebook or — no doubt — the new Apple magazine solution), but they do so by syndicating stories or parts of their internal workflow.

But where does this leave the magazines that concentrate on opinion forming and deep content, often for niche audiences? These are the sort of magazines that have always relied on their subscribers (preferably annual and renewed). There are many such magazines covering all areas of culture: politics, religion, hobbies, art, music, technology, professional engagement etc. In many cases the communities and the expert audiences rely on the deep content that they get from their specialist periodical. Increasingly these serious and committed publications, occupying a well-defined niche, are throwing their efforts into building the subscriber base.

Print subscribers continue to be important to securing this revenue pillar, but if the deep archive of the magazine can be turned into a searchable and continuously improved database they have taken advantage of the digital turn. Thoroughly digital magazines such as The WireSight & SoundArt Monthly or the fashion title Dazed are now databases just as much as they are ‘periodicals’. All their content is available to all their digital readers, all the time. Right from the first issue.

The only thing that is ‘periodical’ about them is that they periodically get bigger.

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Sight & Sound archive with stacked issues from 2000s

This last weekend the Benioffs, founders of Salesforce, have personally bought Time magazine “….a treasure trove of our history and culture” for $190 million. Since the new owners view themselves as “caretakers of one of the world’s most important media companies and iconic brands”, my guess is that Time will soon find a more compelling way of presenting and growing its rich archive.

The Future of Magazines

To start with a statement. Modern society is perpetuating an insatiable drive for innovation and new features in the digital world. This demand shows no signs of slowing down, but is change always the best course of action? In the magazine market, let us indulge ourselves for a moment in musing about what may come in the next ten years — more video content, better audio capabilities, personalised integrated ads, compatibility with new technology such as VR, etc. It is easy to become excited by these ideas, just for the sheer novelty factor, but in reality, the discussion would benefit from everyone taking a step back and viewing the history of the magazine afresh.

Think of a magazine, any magazine, print or digital; what is the first thing that comes to mind? The front cover, right? Think Vogue. That iconic choice of font, the recurring layout, the photography. The cover is the entryway to your favourite periodical. Once you’re beyond the cover, then you’re reading the content, which is the flesh and blood of any magazine. Without good content a magazine won’t sell subscriptions, that’s a fact. Magazines can import as many gimmicks and new features as they like, but without consistent, high-quality content they will not survive. The point is that there exists a core set of principles which define and constitute a magazine. These principles are timeless and should not, and likely will not be forsaken for new gadgets. For example, we have long had the capability to import videos into digital magazines, but it remains an uncommon practice. Why?

article imageWell, to put it simply, they’re not needed. That is not to say that digital is the enemy. There have been many amazing features added to magazines in recent decades that have only been possible because of the development of new technology. New audio capabilities and text-reading technology have been used to develop tools that assist disabled persons in accessing magazines. This text-reading software also means that archives can be searched by keyword, which in turn allows the indexing of the content, increasing discoverability and usability in one fell swoop. Citing and sharing articles via social media has never been easier, creating a self-sustaining marketing to attract new subscribers. You will have noticed by now that none of those features alter the content of the magazine in any way, they solely facilitate the reading and distribution of the magazine.

Commercially, perhaps the two most important changes have been the digitisation of archived issues and the development of dedicated apps for magazines. Most periodicals now have their own apps and/or digital version. This portability has opened up a brand new market for magazines, as well as allowing longtime subscribers the freedom to read their favourite magazine wherever they are. Working in tandem with this is the increasing desire for old, archived issues which have been gathering dust for years in libraries and private collections. Scanning technology has meant that magazine owners have been able to bring the past into the present. This has hugely increased the value of magazines as academic resources and as unique windows for our cultural history.

To conclude, there is clearly a digital presence for magazines. Yet there are still print loyalists who have not embraced the demand for online resources. Signs indicate that publishers who build their digital archives and make them available to current readers and subscribers are making their magazines into digital survivors. Many magazines will be lost because they have not invested time and money into making the digital archive work now. It is a matter of foresight, publishers should always keep one eye on the future. A reactionary policy is a dangerous game, and even with a reactionary policy, publishers must realise that we are now living in a digital world. By crystallising their archives publishers would be guaranteeing their content is available for future generations, and as previously said, preservation of good content is the paramount aim of digital publishing.

Subscribe to the Digital Edition of Stand Magazine!

Stand Magazine, a quarterly publication which features the best in new writing, is now available to buy in the Exact Editions shop.

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First published in London, Stand moved to Leeds in 1957 after Editor Jon Silkin had been Gregory Fellow in Poetry there. Since then, Stand has played a major role in bringing the work of Russian and East European writers in translation to an English-speaking audience. Recently, Stand has promoted contemporary Chinese poets, and will soon publish poetry and prose fiction from Indonesia and Singapore.

Stand has always promoted work by new and established poets, short-story writers and critics, and continues to do so. The magazine has published work by writers who have gone on to become established figures – Ken Smith, Tony Harrison, Michael Hamburger, Geoffrey Hill, and Douglas Dunn. Twice winner of the Booker Prize, Peter Carey, first appeared in the UK in Stand. Some of Terry Eagleton’s most acute reviews appeared in many issues of Stand.

To purchase a digital subscription of Stand Magazine click here.

If you would like to purchase a subscription for your institution, please head to the institutional shop page.

The Importance of Modern Archives

What is the ideal scenario for a librarian when it comes to purchasing an online serial? I think it usually comes down to three major factors; Is the access IP authenticated? Is the access unlimited? Does the subscription include access to the complete archive?

With Exact Editions, librarians can rest assured that we will always meet the first two requirements. However, as much as we always strive to meet the third, occasionally there are barriers which restrict our ability to offer the complete archive. The reasoning varies from case to case, sometimes it is financial, sometimes it is licensing, and sometimes it is exclusivity. Whatever the cause, all is not lost.

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The Modern Archive of TLS includes every issue as it is released

In those cases where we are unable to acquire the complete archive, we still aim to provide what we are now calling the ‘Modern Archive’. This remains a very rich and attractive proposition for libraries, namely because of the fact the archives on the platform are always rolling, and therefore expanding. The best recent example of this is The Times Literary Supplement, which joined the platform only last week. We are in the fortunate position of being the sole institutional provider of the archives from 2012 — Present. As expected we immediately received a storm of interest from universities around the world; the modern archive of TLS is a much-desired resource (especially with the promise of a new issue every week) and will supplement current library holdings.

Library holdings bring me to the next point, the problem of ‘fixed’ archives. This happens when online providers will only secure a deal for certain years of an archive, e.g. 1980–2015. Now this will obviously be a powerful resource with 35 years of content, however, students will be missing out on recent and future issues, which are often very important as they are culturally current. Exact Editions has always leaned away from these ‘landlocked’ archives, instead opting to always offer institutions an archive which is going to grow and bring the latest content.

“Can I check: does it mirror exactly the latest printed content of the TLS, so that guaranteed access to the current issue is provided?” — Interested librarian

This question we received from a potential institutional subscriber illustrates my point exactly. Librarians are always keen to secure content which is at the forefront of its field. When archives are growing organically they are pushing the user and their research with them into the future — not just providing retrospective glimpses of what once was there.

Any comments or suggestions? Please feel free to get in touch via info@exacteditions.com

TLS Launches Modern Digital Archive

 

The Times Literary Supplement has launched its digital modern archive, dating back to 2012, and comprising over 300 issues.

Originally published as a supplement to The Times, in 1902, The Times Literary Supplement (or TLS) became a publication in its own right in 1914, and since then has evolved to become the world’s leading literary journal, featuring reviews and features from a whole host of distinguished writers, poets and scholars. Not only does the publication offer comprehensive coverage of important new releases, it also serves as a unique recording of literary culture across the generations.

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The Times Literary Supplement is published weekly, which means that subscribers to the digital edition not only have access to a wealth of archival content, but will continue to receive issues once a week, which they can read on their phone, tablet or desktop device. The Exact Editions platform features an impressive and advanced search tool, so users can dig out and peruse articles by their favourite writers and contributors. Other features, such as sharing and citation tools, are useful for academic students, who want to reference the TLS in their essays.

The Times Literary Supplement is filled with content by authors and scholars alike, featuring names such as Italo Calvino, Gore Vidal and Seamus Heaney. The publication also provides an immense selection of detailed book reviews, to guide readers through a sometimes murky literary landscape. It is a publication that will continue to attract readers, of all generations, and to appeal to literary minds.

To buy a digital subscription to The Times Literary Supplement, which includes access to the modern archive, please visit our shop page.

If you are an institution, and would like to trial a subscription, please click here.