January 8, 2007

Back Issue Digitization Projects (BIDPs) by the Pound: Article and Issue Business Models

As I've described in a previous post on business models for back issue digitization projects (BIDPs), serial publishers have begun to explore a variety of ways to monetize their backfiles. One such way is to sell their content "by the pound," if you will.

There are several by-the-pound scenarios. While institutional subscriptions to the New York Times are available to public, academic, and public library patrons through ProQuest, individual consumers with no particular affiliation who may wish to have immediate access and ready ability to view, download, or print have not necessarily proven averse to hunting down and plunking down hard cash for individual articles. Consider the pre-1981 portion of the New York Times, which uses ProQuest's Archiver service to permit users to purchase individual New York Times articles. Alas, there are limits on what is available owing to copyright or cost. As outlined in the New York Times's helpful FAQs on what customers can and cannot purchase, photographs, display ads and classified cannot be had. But even with this limitation, the service plays an important role for researchers.

As a newspaper, The New York Times throws additional curveballs. Newspapers tend to be complicated animals, with their complicated layouts and many intended audiences. Periodical publications feature simpler designs because of their narrower publishing objectives and audience. This also makes them easier to digitize and sell in electronic form. Several magazines have recognized that reality. The Atlantic Monthly offers a good example through its creative pricing for electronic backfile access. The publisher here capitalized on the flexibility of the ProQuest Archiver to not only sell by the pound but supply volume discounts through a "pass" system for those who want to buy in bulk.

Then there are the many other publishers who have opted for simpler "go-it-alone" arrangements. Instead of using a pre-packaged (albeit dexterous) service like ProQuest Archiver, some monetize their backfiles by loading tables of contents at the issue level and introducing basic shopping cart software for straightforward per article purchasing. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics publishes nine journals. Its flagship journal, the AIAA Journal, lets users touch down in the table of contents of each volume. Users gain access to the first page (this one is from the first article in volume 3, 1965) before being prompted onwards to purchase the full article by clicking the "Add to Cart" button. (Articles seem headily priced at $25.00 per item, although for science, technology and medicine publications, this is not unusual.) AIAA members are, of course, encouraged to include their membership identification number to receive discounts. For subscription-based (instead of membership-based) publications, a current subscriber account number might serve just as well for that discounted access to articles from the periodical's backfile.

A variant on paying per article is "paying per view." The difference is more semantic than actual. Pay-per-view arrangements are just more forward about the time limits they impose on access. Science exemplifies this approach. As perhaps the premiere publication in its area, Science has aggressively relaunched itself in the digital arena. Its fully digital backfile is automatically available 24/7 to all dues-paying members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This arrangement has the salutary effect of transforming the backfile into a membership drive-and-retention tool. For nonmembers, access is a more highly restricted and therefore more expensive affair. Not only must nonmembers pay for access to an article, but Science imposes a 24-hour use-it-or-lose-it time limit per article, presumably in order to manage IP address traffic. Still, the ability to read, print and download is there, little different from other BIDPs on the market.

Finally, there is the option of acquiring the entire issue itself. There are certain inherent advantages to this mode of delivery through distributors like Zinio, especially for popular magazines that both want to defend their copyright and defend themselves from intellectual property violations of their own making. Zinio adopts a newsstand sales model. Subscribers purchase digital versions of the complete back issues at prices that differ little from print back orders. What customers receive is online access to full-color high-resolution JPEGs of the original work. Zinio's presentation does not permit text searching, a weakness for users who demand that form of retrieval. Nonetheless it does curtail infringement by webcrawling software engines that scrape the Web (not a small point in light of Google's recent court victory) or individuals who resort to something as simple as blocking out, copying and pasting text from HTML or PDF files. (Of course, JPEGs, GIFs, PNGs and other formats can be outfitted with "hit-term highlighting," which simultaneously allows full-text searching and prevents Web scraping, but that's another story.) Moreover, Zinio's presentation helps overcome the Tasini court ruling that pinched periodical aggregators and publishers who sought to remarket their content in a "disintermediated" form (e.g., articles and images separated from one another). By keeping the entire issue intact, Zinio follows Tasini's allowance to reproduce content without reacquiring rights from authors, illustrators or photographers. As such, Zinio is an ideal, although limited, tool for publishers seeking to protect their content and meet intellectual property requirements that might otherwise prevent them from making their content available for electronic consumption.

Bennett Lovett-Graff
Publisher, Content Solutions
National Archive Publishing Company
Digitization, Microfilming, and Publisher Services