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.

SightSound

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 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

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: https://blog.exacteditions.com/2017/11/28/preserving-magazines/

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: https://institutions.exacteditions.com/showcases/idpd2017

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?

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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!

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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: https://twitter.com/exacteditions

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

Individual Shop: https://shop.exacteditions.com/ 
Institutional Shop: https://institutions.exacteditions.com/

The Wire Archive Live

As of today, every single issue of The Wire since it kicked off in 1982 is available digitally. That’s 353 issues and 25,0000 pages of experimental music history, over 30 years, all available on the iPad/iPhone app or online. Imagine the entirety of The Wire’s history at your fingertips.

Wire Homepage

If you’ll kindly pick your jaws up off the floor, we can tell you that the whole lot is fully searchable, too. So if there’s a specific artist, group or review you’re after – no matter how obscure – look no further.

Say, for example, you’re dying to find the first time Andrew Weatherall made an appearance in The Wire. You can not only find every single mention of him, you can bookmark your search to come back to later, and you can tweet it directly from the app.

Andrew Weatherall

You can trace musical history through its pages, and search the gadgets which have shaped the way we listen to it. Like the iPod.

If you search for ‘iPod’, you’ll find the first mention is a letter entitled

‘iPod, therefore I hate music’ (May 2004)

Written in response to a comment on the ‘smug fraternity of iPod ownership’ then emerging, the incensed reader claims that ‘by the very act of transferring a CD to a hard disk, iPod users reveal themselves to be no lovers of music.’ Would we still say that’s true? I doubt it!

By July 2012, we see the iPod popping up in a review of ‘Shuffle Culture’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which showcased a ‘conceptual revue of [Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’s] iPod playlist’ and its ‘emblematically postmodern’ bringing together of contrasting artists.

Other turns in the tide of musical thought include finger-pointing towards Spotify as responsible for the ‘decline of the album as a self-contained artwork’, in October 2009. By October 2012, Spotify was being credited with ‘stimulal[ing] an interest in an extraordinarily wide appreciation of music’.

We’ve only just begun to flex the muscles of this powerful new tool for music lovers. Why not have a go yourself, and see what you can unearth?

The Wire Colourful