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Unlocking magazine archives: what’s the revenue opportunity?

With news organisations making their archives available online to provide better context to stories, magazine media publishers are starting to realise that their own content could potentially unlock a new revenue stream.

Earlier this year, Reuters decided to bring its archive footage to the centre of the business, and to date has half a million video clips available as a result of its digitisation process. 

As well as enhancing your offering and allowing audiences to better understand current stories, archived content can also provide a new revenue stream for your business. Amy Duffin was lucky enough to visit one such archive in London and spoke to Time Inc. UK’s information manager, David Abbott, who is on a mission to maximise the potential of the company's vast collection of archive material.

How far do Time Inc. UK’s archives go back?

Around 160 years – we started off with titles like the The Field launched in 1853 but at that point they were more like specialist newspapers – without images or illustrations. By the 1890s, we started publishing comics, which contain the first illustrations. From that point onwards, the focus changed slightly and was more comic-based and illustrative.

For example, certain characters emerged, like Sexton Blake who began in 1893 (similar to Sherlock Holmes), who has been used throughout the company’s history. He featured in comics, radio plays, and there was even a TV series about him. He’s one of our longest-standing, most important characters.

Sexton Blake ()

What is the potential to revive/revisit these characters now, in terms of syndication?

With Sexton Blake, for example, there are conversations being had about how we can potentially use him now. We’ve had enquiries, which may lead to things; we’ve let production companies pitch ideas out to TV producers off the back of the Sherlock Holmes revival in the UK.

We’ve also optioned some of our characters to film production companies, but it’s a really ‘long game’ in terms of partnering up to do the right things at the right time.

At what point in the archive do the images really start to stand out?

Although the magazine brands began like newspapers, they gradually became more interesting in terms of imagery, and began producing illustrated covers. Around the start of First World War, comics were being produced in colour and with very detailed illustrations. Looking at the comics themselves now [in small scale] doesn’t do them justice – the illustrations are fantastic, and so detailed.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Science Fiction became popular and things became a little more adventurous in terms of imagery. There was also a big focus on sport in the 1920s. Modern Boy was published during this time and features motorbikes, cars, trains, speed and action.

In the 1950s and 1960s the romance genre was huge, and we’ve got some amazing illustrated covers from then that we can license today. 

Romance ()

How are the archived images being used today?

Through a syndication programme, we’re talking to various organisations about how our images can be used. To begin with, we’re interested in producing high-end limited edition gallery prints for the B2C market. Previously under our brand ‘Drawn Ink’ we have worked with the Royal Mail, who did a series of stamps based on comics using some of our images. They also did several spin-offs, like postcards and posters. It was a really great project to work on!

In the last few years, we’ve also had a series of cushions and fabrics printed using our images, which have retailed in stores like John Lewis. This business develops in all sorts of ways. For example, cowboys were very popular in the 1950s, and some of our cowboy images were used for these cushions because the images are still desirable today. We used a series of 12 images in total – it was tough to choose which 12 to use from our extensive archive.

Valiant Stamp ()
Cowboy Cushion ()

How important are your partners in this operation?

It’s crucial to get the right partners on board. We have these great images, and need partners’ expertise and knowhow to bring them to market. We’re still learning and are looking for various opportunities to talk about and open up our archive to willing parties.

In terms of your cover image archive, who is your ideal partner?

The way that scanning and printing technology has advanced, has meant that these cover images can be reproduced to an extraordinary quality and a huge size. The image doesn’t break up the way it used to when it was copied, and you can print on almost any material – vinyl, aluminium, virtually anything. The possibilities are endless. So the ideal partner would be anyone who is looking to work with these high-quality images. As mentioned, a lot of the success of this is due to technology advances in the printing press. We also try to keep the images as authentic as possible and not ‘airbrush’ them, to show them in their original form. 

How many brands/images are in the Time Inc. archive?

We don’t know of many archives as comprehensive as ours – they’ve been very well looked after over the years and because we’ve got comics and magazines, it’s a very unique mix.

We’ve got around 50 brands that we can use images from the no longer published titles. We also have 60 titles at Time Inc. UK still being produced with many having a great heritage and incredible archives, of course. For example, our TV Times brand has just celebrated its 60th birthday with an exhibition of images from its archive, which generated a great amount of interest from the national press, readers and general public and generated over 5m page views.

There are still titles in the archive for which I haven’t yet seen every issue– so there’s still huge potential to uncover. At the moment, however, we have enough imagery to bring to market and collaborate with partners – around 250,000 covers. With the content and brand licensing manager, Lisa Fenner-Leitão, we are managing and developing the archive and our brand ‘Drawn Ink’ into a dynamic and successful business.

For more information about this project, contact

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