How America’s Oldest Magazines Are Modernizing (And Monetizing) Their Archives
Iconic magazines have different strategies for surfacing their pasts.
TIME launched its digital archive, "The Vault," on Wednesday, but it’s not the only magazine to look to its past for new content, more inventory and increased value for subscribers.
Through bundles, tiered subscription models or one-off purchases, titles are able to generate revenue by repackaging their pasts. Here’s how five of the oldest magazines in the U.S. handle content that reaches back to the 1800s.
Scientific American (founded 1845)
As the oldest continuously published magazine in the country, Scientific American‘s content database has original reporting on inventions like Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. And there’s more than 150,000 other articles going back 169 years (though pre-2005 content is PDF only).
Institutional access has been available since 2011 through a partnership with sister site, Nature.com, but Scientific American opened its library to consumers earlier this year. Unlimited archive access is bundled into a $99 annual subscription that also includes monthly print and digital issues of the magazine. It’s clear they’re putting a lot of value on those vast archives though—an "all-access" pass is $75 more than a print subscription alone.
"We’re asking $99 for this product, which is considerably more than our other subscription packages," Chris Dorbandt, the brand’s VP of consumer marketing, told FOLIO: when the product launched. "We’re rewarding our brand loyalists with exceptional value because we believe this is a lifetime product with concern to our content."
The Atlantic (1857)
The Atlantic has a number of different levels and entry points for its legacy content. Almost every magazine article from Sept. 1995 through today is online in HTML format, for free, along with a smattering of pieces (usually from its better-known contributors or that touch on major historical events) from earlier issues.
Pre-1995 access gets more complicated. A ProQuest site offers stories from 1857 through the present, though it warns articles from Jan. 1964 through Sept. 1992 aren’t available due to copyright restrictions. Prices range from $2.95 (a single article) to $99.95 (a yearly pass that’ll give you access to 300 articles).
Harper’s has one of the deepest archives out there with close to 2,000 monthly issues in its library. The vast majority of those are only available via PDF (or microfiche), with issues from 2012-on offering an HTML view.
The brand only offers one subscription bundle ($39.99/1 year; $49.99/2 years), so every paying reader gets full archive access along with current print and digital products.
The Nation (1865)
Online for more than a decade, The Nation‘s archives have been around digitally longer than most. And, similar to the Harper’s model, annual subscriptions bundle current content with access to its archives for $32 (print and digital) or $18 (digital-only).
It stands out for how it’s making use of that content in the present day though. The magazine launched "Back Issues" in May—a blog that mixes original reporting of major historical events with retrospective looks at how those stories developed in real time. Hindsight serves up some interesting nuggets.
"We today launch the ‘Back Issues’ blog at TheNation.com, which will highlight articles from our past either relevant to topics and events of the day or irrelevant, but nonetheless interesting," the blog’s editor, Richard Kreitner, said at the time of its launch in May. "From the Johnson impeachment to the Clinton impeachment, from the Paris Commune to Occupy Wall Street, from the old Jim Crow to the new, The Nation has been there, America’s oldest weekly magazine. The possibilities for exploration are practically endless."
Vogue puts more of a premium on its archives than any other magazine. After a massive (and secretive) scanning project, the brand made its 122-years of content—425,000 images, 300,000 ads and 100,000 articles—available to consumers in 2011. The price tag? $1575.
That’s for full access, though regular magazine subscribers ($19.99/1 year) get a limited selection of archival content.
Condé Nast has been creatively monetizing its archives with other brands and projects aside from Vogue however. Condé Nast Collection and Condé Nast Trade offer reprints and custom photo installations to consumer and B2B buyers, respectively.