How to drive value from a digital archive

Print publishers are often sitting on an unexploited asset – their archive.  If they have been the authority in a particular field for decades, they will have built up a fabulous collection of images, reviews, comment and news that is of interest to enthusiasts and researchers.  But it’s often languishing in boxes due to the imagined high cost of digitising it.  There are now an increasing number of services for putting print or PDFs online in a low cost, and importantly searchable format.  Here are five ideas for how you can monetise your archive to help you justify the investment.

1. Traffic growth

Many digital archive products now allow easy searching within articles, and also put individual articles on their own web pages.  These are far better indexed by search engines than page-turning digital mags, so you can grow your traffic, and then use data collection to build your database.  When the ad market recovers, you may even be able to commercialise the extra inventory!

2. Subscriptions

People searching your archive may well be interested in a subscription, so if you can find mechanisms to capture data and promote subs on your archive pages, then you can expand your subs base.  You can also bundle either digital editions or archive passes with print subscriptions to add extra value.

3. Related products

If part of your archive is product reviews, then you are well placed to have links to purchase the product.  Gramophone have recently digitised their archive, and plan to sell classical albums alongside reviews.

4. Paid-for content or archive searching

Reviews of products or places may be valuable enough to consumers to be worth paying for as a PDF download.  You can target people who are making related searches of your archive.  The Guardian allows free searching, but if users want to download the full articles, they have to pay for a timed pass

5. Syndication

Once your archive is digitised, it is easy to make premium content available for syndication.  If you own your images, they can be valuable to card and calendar publishers and other publishers.

I’d be interested in experiences of other publishers in digitising their archive.  I have been talking to a number of suppliers and have some ideas on what services are suitable for different publishers.  Do contact me if you’d like to discuss in more detail.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital strategies for media businesses, and also advises non-media businesses on how to develop digital media and marketing strategies.  Find out more at