A hundred years' worth of aviation and aerospace industry news, much of it long consigned to dusty bound volumes, has now taken wing in fully digitized form, the product of a painstaking and ambitious collaborative project between Aviation Week & Space Technology and The Boeing Company to jointly mark their 2016 centennials.
The Penton title’s new 100-year digital archive—some half a million pages over 4,500 issues—is freely available to registrants on the Aviation Week website through year’s end, but is expected to become a vehicle for ongoing revenue generation as Penton subscription, ad, and content marketers find ways to leverage its power to educate, inform, and entertain.
Encouraged by rave reviews and heavy traffic to the product three months in, Aviation Week president Greg Hamilton tells Folio: that the Boeing-sponsored archive holds great promise for raising the publication’s profile and forging and cementing bonds with subscribers, advertisers, and the industry.
“This gives us a new content-based marketing vehicle,” Hamilton says. “Next year we’ll gate this at various premium levels, but in addition to monetizing base subs or premium subs we also have an opportunity to do some enterprise-type sales of the content to corporations, government, and academia. For instance, we’ve already had companies ask us if there’s some way they can use these archives to document their own history with digital reprints—sort of a ‘my history as seen through Aviation Week’s archives' type of thing.”
In the first two months of availability, the archive has logged 45,000 unique visitors, 40 percent of whom are outside North America. That’s noteworthy, Hamilton says, because the publication is trying to become better-known globally. Also, most of those who register to access the archive are newcomers to the publication’s site, and presumably in the younger aviation industry demographic that the publication is targeting, as well.
“People who register are prospects we can go back to and say ‘we hope you enjoyed the archive—would you like to subscribe to the brand?'” Hamilton says. “We’re attending more events outside the U.S.—the Middle East and Singapore, most recently—and we’re using the archive to demonstrate our product and generate leads and subs.”
Additional statistics reveal that traffic is heavy and visitors are liking what they see when they enter.
“We had an average of 145,000 page views in each of the first two months, from, on average, 33,000 visits from 22,000 unique visitors, which are big numbers for us,” Hamilton says. “And what’s really notable is that the average time spent is 10.7 minutes for each visit. We’re happy to get five to six minutes on a normal kind of deep website, and three or four minutes on a mobile. This suggests they’re getting in there and finding one thing and then another. It’s a very sticky environment.”
On top of leveraging it for subscription enhancement purposes, Aviation Week is also planning to tap the archive to sell steeply discounted advertising in a May special anniversary issue. What’s being discussed is mining vintage ads contained in archived issues. Since many companies in the industry have survived in some form, the idea, Hamilton says, is to approach them with the pitch of running old ads alongside new advertising messages, comparing and contrasting the company of today with that of yesteryear.
Getting those old ads and other copy from aging print issues into a high-quality, searchable digital format loomed as a major challenge. So Aviation Week tapped Bondi Digital Publishing, which did similar projects for Vogue, Rolling Stone, and others. That work was funded largely by Boeing, which is dovetailing its own centennial program of documentaries and traveling exhibits with the Aviation Week archive.
Working closely with Penton’s technical and art groups, and through its skills in developing content management systems and platforms, Bondi spent some seven months digitizing the archives. Roughly 80 of the 100 years of issues were in hard copy form only; Aviation Week maintained a digital archive spanning only the last 20 years' worth of issues.
Boeing’s sponsorship was key to getting what proved to be a technically complex and costly project off the ground. Had the company not been marking its own 100th anniversary and been willing to be a sponsor and defray much of the cost of digitization, Hamilton says, an archive with the same quality and features would have been difficult to produce and hard to justify.
But also critical to making the archive idea feasible was the opportunity to monetize it. With 65,000 paid subscribers paying $100 a year on average, Aviation Week has an ability to both improve the value of subscriptions or create new tiers, Hamilton notes. In addition, corporate, government, and academic subscribers to aggregated content on the Aviation Week Intelligence Network could be targets for selling archived content. Add in the fact that Aviation Week is marking its 100th anniversary, and that digitization has become easier to perform, and the business case for finally commiting to building a comprehensive digital archive comes into focus.
“This is a pretty unique project,” Hamilton says. “If it was a bad thing I’d call it a perfect storm, but I’d call it more of something in which the planets were aligned perfectly.”