Archiving the future

By: Brad Buchanan

The Archiving Value Proposition

Remember when periodical archives consisted of bundles stacked to the ceiling? Now news stories can be easily uploaded to centralized storage facilities for research and preservation purposes. It’s as simple and easy as uploading PDFs through a web portal.

In 2009 the Library of Congress created a 100-page document on how to properly digitize manuscripts. As is often the case with our friends in the public sector and academia, the study is impressively loquacious and multiloquent.

But for those of us in the private sector who are in the business of electronically storing digital images of news items, we don’t need to make it quite so complicated. The first step in achieving a robust and on-going news archive that meets actual market demand is ease of use. The act of archiving should be simple and convenient, to keep the “true cost” of archiving minimal.

The next step in a private, market-centric approach is to create a strong value proposition for publishers and editors, making it worth their while to continue uploading. What are the benefits to publishers of archiving, outside of preservation? Depending on the archiving methodology, news organizations might receive:

  • Text searchability
  • Off-site storage, in case of equipment failures or natural catastrophes
  • Aggregation with other publications for press association or institutional use
  • Possible monetization (more on this in part two)
  • Using a traditional cost/benefit market-driven analysis, if the archiving system is easy to use, and the rewards are substantial, there is a higher probability that publishers will continue uploading material once they get started.

What About Back Archives?

Digitizing past archives from print or microfilm can be an expensive undertaking. Depending on the number of pages to be converted, and the condition of the originals, market prices start at about $.60 per page (based on research from 2014). For a hundred-year-old, eight-page publication, this would amount to about $25,000, more than many small publishers can afford. What is the potential return on investment for a project like this? How many customers are willing to pay for access to community newspaper archives?

State historical societies and the Library of Congress may have programs available to help offset the cost of converting paper or film archives to digital. However, these subsidies require a great deal of paperwork, and the money is scarce. The cost of converting past editions emphasizes the need to keep digital archives of current editions. We need to insure that the archiving problems we face are not exacerbated for future generations.

Ownership, Control and Distribution of Archives

From a layman’s perspective, ownership of news material is retained by the content originator. The details of copyright law are far beyond the scope of this article, but let’s review a few basics. For all works created in 1978 or after, the copyright holder owns the content for the life of the author plus 70 years, except in work-for-hire situations, where the copyright is valid for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Copyright protection can only be granted when the work is in a fixed, “tangible” form, such as paper or a computer disk. Archiving lies at the heart of keeping material, especially web-based content, in a tangible form.

Despite the legal complexities, for most publications the old copyright rules still apply. While the state historical society may be allowing access to content post-1922, the content originator still owns that material, and can, with certain exceptions, control its use.

For current private market purposes, archiving companies need to be licensed shops and have an established reputation for fair play in the industry. When content originators upload for archiving purposes they need to know that content will be used properly by the company they are entrusting with their product. Royalties need to be paid to the content originators or established trade associations when that content is distributed for resale. Licensing provides a market-driven model for fair, paid distribution of archived content.

Next Tuesday’s blog post will look at news preservation and monetization potential for digital archives.