“Everything old is new again,” or so goes the song lyric — and some of the nation’s most long-lived print publications seem to be leveraging that notion to generate new readers and new revenue. An increasing number of these publications are finding ways to monetize their extensive archives of back issues by making them available to readers of their digital versions. It may not count as money for nothing, exactly, but it could certainly prove a smart way of repurposing content you already have to boost sales and interest in your own trade or niche publication.
Maintaining archives of back issues for review and/or sale is nothing new to the publishing world, of course. But in the pre-Web era, a reader or researchers searching for a specific article had little choice but to scan library card indexes or order issues at random, or by guessing at the relevant year and month of publication. Today’s Web-based searchable archives eliminate that trial and error, allowing people to find precise references by keyword (although for many casual users, old-fashioned browsing still presents irresistible opportunities to stumble across hidden gems of information).
The Lure of Yesterday’s News
Many old, revered publications are taking advantage of this capability by mining their storehouses of back issues. According to the Financial Times, The New York Times’ searchable online archives, Times Machine, permits access to articles dating back to 1851, while the Guardian’s database features issues as ancient as 1791. Scientific American, the Atlantic, Vogue, and other legendary magazines have put their back issues up for digital viewing as well. Why are readers drawn to content decades or even centuries old? The answer is a simple one: Articles that were once popular as cutting-edge news are now highly valued for their historical content.
Monetizing the Past
Publications are following two basic models as far as monetizing these “blasts from the past.” According to Folio, digital archives are typically being made available through premium multimedia subscriptions that command significantly higher rates than print-only subscriptions — while still representing tremendous value for the wealth of information they offer. For example, Scientific American offers a $99 print/digital subscription (as opposed to about $24 for the print-only version) that includes unlimited access to its archives. Vogue offers limited archive access with its basic one-year subscription, but diehard fashion historians can purchase unlimited access to its 122 years of archival content for a whopping $1,575. Other publications are more modest in the archive revenue goals, but they still charge a premium for access to their particular data goal mines.
Even making your back issues available for free can spike revenues for your publication. The New York Times did exactly that by offering free access to both old and new articles over a four-month period. The Financial Times article notes that one-quarter of the readership took advantage of the offer by digging into the online archives, spending more time on the site as a result. This kind of promotion creates a taste for historical content that may spur readers to shell out for premium subscriptions once their free access ends. More time spent on the site is also attractive to advertisers, giving you an opportunity to sell more ad space at higher rates.
As you can see, sometimes old news can be good news. Take a look at your own publication’s back issues. Do they contain important historical or cultural data that might encourage readers to pay more for digital access and/or increase your status as a desirable venue for advertisers? If so, you may be sitting on a very profitable time capsule indeed — and it may be time to dig it up!