Interview: Vogue Publisher Plans To Digitize Archives For Tablet Long Tail

In music, celestial jukeboxes like Spotify replace vinyl and CDs with unlimited back-catalogue access. Could magazine publishers grant their subscribers the same digital privilege?

“Very much so. It’s on our agenda,” Condé Nast UK digital director Jamie Jouning tells paidContent.

“We are thinking about it for various of our brands. It’s a big process. We’d want to do it so it’s searchable, so it’s more than taking flat PDFs, probably HTML so you can go in to those issues and pick something out.

“If we’re going to do it, we’ll do it properly, and we’ll do it on a brand-by-brand basis. Within the next five years or so, I’d imagine most of our magazines will have an archive of back copies.”

My collection of Wired magazines runs back to 1995. The earliest editions are a precious record of the birth of the digital age. The collection is outgrowing space in my home office, but I dare not throw them. Back-catalogue access via iPad could atomise those heavy stacks in to an electronic collection the width of just one print edition.

Do current subscribers like me have the right to expect such access? That question could soon be answered. Although creating new iPad editions has proved initially costly for publishers, digitising pre-iPad back-catalogues could be more straightforward. Of course, any long tail publishing would likely be done on an individual publisher and title basis, not in the industry-wide way Spotify lists songs from all music publishers.

Another publisher, Hearst, appears interested in making available older magazines…

“A meaningful portion (of single-copy iPad sales) is for issues that are no longer available for sale,” Hearst president David Carey recently told paidContent. “We have a lot of evergreen content — how can we have that have a longer life than it has now?”

Today, 28 percent of Condé Nast UK consumers own an iPad, international president Nicholas Coleridge told a briefing audience on Wednesday. Three of the publisher’s 13 titles are now available in custom iPad editions.

Vogue, which has previously published only experimental iPad editions, is going monthly from September and two bespoke Vogue apps will be built in-house. The publisher will soon overhaul web designs for Vogue, Wired and GQ.

“Already, one in 10 GQ UK readers who buy copies at the newsstand now choose to buy the digital version rather than the print version,” Coleridge added. “That’s a pretty interesting thing to happen in the space of one year.”