Preservation of magazine content and its accessibility


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.


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.



PN Review Launches Digital Archive!

PN Review launches through Exact Editions its unique digital archive – almost half a century of world poetry, interviews, reviews and features about modern poetry: ‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ (Simon Armitage).







The archive includes the major practitioners of the age from Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn and Seamus Heaney to John Ashbery, Les Murray and Eavan Boland, and many new arrivals. PN Review ‘discovered’ and first published ample selections of Andrew Motion, Sujata Bhatt, Sinead Morrissey and Kei Miller, Tara Bergin and Vahni Capildeo. It is the major British poetry journal of our time, with a strong international focus, alert to the opportunities and threats facing the art and the reader today.

Digital subscribers have unlimited access to this astonishing resource dating back to 1972, with hundreds of interviews and features. It is a map of modern poetry and at the same time a compelling history.

As a digital subscriber to PN Review, you have unlimited access to the full archive. Explore today.


How do you digitise a magazine archive?

                                                                                A selection of Opera back issues.

This year brings us the first International Digital Preservation Day — a celebration of materials preserved by digital conservation. Exact Editions aims to mark the day by exhibiting notable pages from 12 of their most ambitious archive projects. Explore original writings by young American novelists in a 1979 issue of Granta, or view the world through a lens of pre-war wanderlust, in the first ever issue of Geographical (1935). These back issues are wonderfully preserved, simulating the original print format, including original advertisements, covers, and yet the aim of Exact Editions extends beyond preservation. Their platform is refined, providing auxiliary benefits for users and researchers alike, including comprehensive search functions, and social media integration, as well as the opportunity for publishers to host pictures and videos alongside their magazines.

So how are these digital archives created? The Exact Editions Production team works with both publishing and scanning partners to bring archives to fruition; the first step — to assess how many print back issues will need to be scanned. Exact Editions currently works with two scanning partners: Cleardata Document Scanning Services, for destructible scanning projects (i.e. print issues that can be cut down the spine), and The British Library for publications that need to remain intact, or as a resource to find otherwise extinct back issues. For example, the scanning of Creative Review, a recent project launched earlier this year, was conducted entirely by the British Library, and most of its back issues sourced within the library itself.

                                                                        A selection of Creative Review back issues.

Once Exact Editions has received the scanned files for a particular archive, the Production team undergoes an extensive process of quality control. This involves ensuring that the pagination of each issue is correct, that pages are cropped and all advertisements and covers, including back covers, are present — Exact Editions likes to replicate the original print format wherever possible. The Production department also ensures that all files are fully OCR’d (i.e. the text recognised) so that the archive will lend itself to advanced search tools and linking facilities. Once uploaded to our platform, the Production team processes each issue individually, ensuring that contents pages are linked, and arranging the issues chronologically.

When it comes to launching an archive, Exact Editions organises an integrated digital push, comprised of several key promotional activities. These include an initial press release, distributed to an extensive list of contacts within the publishing community, as well as a push through social media channels, aimed at both the consumer and library markets. Exact Editions also provides a marketing resource pack for publishers, including promotional images, and demo video, as well as offering copywriting advice for publisher websites, newsletters or email marketing. The Marketing team later initiates a comprehensive email marketing campaign, in order to drive up subscriptions, and generate sales for the publisher.

From its print conception, to digital launch, the Exact Editions team ensures that a magazine’s archive is preserved to the highest standard, meeting the demand, particularly in the library market, for digital historical content. Exact Editions is a unique company, it’s aims twofold: to preserve the original “look” and format of a magazine’s archive, and to improve a user’s reading experience with advanced digital features. It is in this vein that Exact Editions celebrates Digital Preservation Day 2017.

Exact Editions – IDPD17

This year brings us the inaugural International Digital Preservation Day, organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and supported by digital preservation networks, institutions and universities world-wide. The commendable drive behind IDPD17 is to encourage institutions and individuals to celebrate resources which have been preserved and to encourage initiatives to be taken for the future.

Exact Editions works to build, preserve and deliver complete online archives for libraries and individual subscribers. The aim is to make every magazine on the platform fully searchable, easy to access and as readable as the print version, serving to secure objects of cultural importance for future generations.

To read more about the cultural importance of magazines, and why they should be preserved, take a look at this post:

The digitisation of an archive involves numerous challenges such as; creating a fluid platform on which to view the archive and maintaining a perfect digital standard through quality control. At Exact Editions the production team has mastered this process so that thousands of pages are now safe, saved from their perilous paper existence.

To see all the work which goes into digitising an archive, look out for our forthcoming blog to be released on digital preservation day!

When we heard about IDPD17, Exact Editions, and our publishing partners, were very keen to join the digital celebration — and we know you can’t turn up to a digital preservation party without bringing your own bytes to eat. So in the spirit of this digital fiesta we’ve opened up 36 issues to the public for a one month period. Twelve of our publisher partners have kindly allowed us to open three issues from their beautiful magazines.

You can browse these windows into cultural history here:

Every single page, issue, year, decade and archive is fully searchable by keyword on the Exact Editions platform. So make sure to explore the free issues in their entirety and have fun with the platform. For example; the 1999 issue of New Internationalist which covers the Radical Twentieth Century surely must mention Che Guevara, right?


Search results for ‘Che Guevara’ in the January 1999 issue of New Internationalist

Make the most of our easy-to-use toolbar which is located at the bottom of every page on the website. Share your favourite pages on social media channels, and be sure to follow us on Twitter and tag us in any pages which catch your eye!


Moonlight feature from the March 2017 issue of Sight & Sound

Jokes and freebies aside, Digital Preservation is a potent issue in the modern world. We have the unprecedented opportunity to preserve our history and culture for the future, and Exact Editions is proud to participate in an event dedicated to crystallising our digital legacy.

If you want to hear more from us, follow us on Twitter:

To see what other magazines we work with, visit our shop pages:

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Preserving magazines


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.


The first issue of Gramophone – 1935


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.