Archiving the future: Market Analysis for Digital Archiving

By: Brad Buchanan

This is part three of a four-part series by Newz Group CEO Brad Buchanan on print media digitization.

Market Demand Analysis

Considering consumer buying trends and the implications created for content sales in conjunction with established success-tested models, three generic layers of potential market demand emerge.

A word of caution is in order here. Buying patterns in the digi-scape are so nascent and diverse, traditional market segmentation is of limited utility and can only give us a high level view of prospective customer clusters. Some of those clusters might be:

  • Individuals – People looking for information about an ancestor might know they lived in a certain town around a certain date. They might only want to access the publication(s) in their area of interest, over a set date range.
  • Researchers/Academics – May be interested in information by topic, and want to search for certain keywords over a broad geographic area. Aggregation of several publications into one database would become critical for this customer group. They might not pay to access individual newspaper archives.
  • Institutional Buyers – Educational institutions, state and local government, and some companies such as Ancestry.com might want continuous access to the entire database, and their service should be priced accordingly.

At present, several companies are trying to sell newspaper archives, and yet there have been few success stories. The biggest publications, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, can sell their own archives due to their size and interest level of consumers. Some publications have been successful culling past editions for specific items, such as recipes and Civil War history, and producing them in book form.

When Googling “newspaper archives” there were 152,000 hits, but clicking through some of the sites listed on the first page demonstrates the paucity of material residing in these databases. One site showed eleven newspapers in Missouri, while another showed six publications in Kentucky. It is clear from the most cursory examination that no group can establish, populate and maintain a newspaper archive as well as a coalition from inside the industry.

A Plan of Action

As a rule newspapers have been fiercely independent, and that is consistent with our country’s First Amendment Freedom of the Press. This is an admirable characteristic of professional journalism, and the role of the Fourth Estate in the maintenance of American liberty. In this time of transition and financial flux, newspapers are much stronger when they act in concert with one another, especially in collective action for lobbying and FOI initiatives.

Archiving is another area that seems to lend itself most readily to industry collaboration, given the economic contraction attributable to the disruption of traditional journalism by new technologies. By working through trade associations and/or academic institutions, publishers have a chance to create a critical mass of material that will draw traffic, ease royalty administration, share database maintenance costs, create off-site back-up systems, and possibly create a new revenue stream.

The question for many is, how to initiate a project like this?

First, there must be agreement that this should be a collaborative effort – that a statewide archive will bring in more traffic than an individual publication’s, and a regional archive will draw more eyeballs than one that is only statewide. The broader the geographic reach, the greater the potential audience demand becomes.

Second, there must be agreement on the parameters of the archive. What should be the prices for resale of content, and should there be different pricing for diverse buying groups? How should the royalty dollars be divided up between the collaborators and the database management group? Should purchased content be tracked somehow to insure it is not misappropriated? Who should administer the project, and should that be an industry-controlled entity? What type of license agreement would be necessary for efficient royalty administration? There are a host of issues that would need to be hammered out before the archive can become a reality.

Third, a board of directors or management group would have to be established to oversee the ongoing operation of the archive. The group might be composed of some combination of individual publishers, trade association managers, journalism professors, and private company executives. The key components here are trust and legitimacy.

Fourth, create a workable plan, using existing systems and resources as much as possible, to keep start-up costs down, and make the system operational in an expeditious fashion. Recognize that the plan will have to be adapted to market realities as the project moves forward. As Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Fifth, design and build the archiving system, populating it with content, and creating a user-friendly dashboard for ease of accessibility. Test it internally with publishers and other industry insiders to insure a positive consumer experience.

Sixth, begin testing the system in external markets, gathering information about the success of various promotional strategies and pricing methodologies. Be prepared to fail quickly and try new avenues. This will probably be the most difficult part of the process, and may require several iterations before a financially sustainable working model is achieved.

Seventh, build in feedback loops from all stakeholders, customer groups, publishers, trade associations, academics, and private companies, so the archiving system can be tweaked to create the best possible value proposition for all concerned parties.

A final consideration for implementing any type of collaborative archiving system is that the industry needs to move quickly, get something in place even if it is not perfect. Success is more often a product of failure than perfection and we often must un-learn much that we thought was true. In any project of this kind, we must be willing to get it wrong, and view these failures not as setbacks, but as feedback.

Next Tuesday’s blog post will be the conclusion to this series.