Corner Office: Breaking New Ground With Google
In December 2008, Google announced that it had launched an initiative to add online magazine archives to its already established digital book archive database, Google Book Search (Books.Google.com). One of the first publishers to offer content to the new initiative was Chicago-based Johnson Publishing, the world’s largest African-American-owned and -operated publishing company, which produces Ebony and Jet magazines.
Eric Easter, chief of digital strategy for Ebony and Jet’s online component EbonyJet.com, spearheaded the Google partnership. Here, he discusses why Johnson Publishing was eager to sign on to this new initiative and how digital media plays a part in the company’s overall publishing strategy.
Why did Johnson Publishing want to make its magazine archives accessible online?
Eric Easter: We wanted access for our own internal use and then to do what I call “recontextualizing,” which is just a fancy term for leveraging the content. Due to the nature of our content—we’re not just about news, we’re a lifestyle—we can provide folks with a unique, historical perspective of black culture. We want contemporary writers to look at the archives and put them into today’s perspective. We’re not simply repurposing our content; we want to put it into a new context.
Why partner with Google?
Easter: It was really serendipitous. Digitizing our material was a high priority, and I had been researching our options. While looking at several other costly solutions, I just happened to reach out to Google at the same time that they were reaching out to me. Google has a lot of resources, and they wanted to get this project rolling. They proved to be a dramatically less expensive option—100-percent less!
Have you encountered any roadblocks thus far?
Easter: The difficult part is that digital archival is a fairly destructive process. Once you give up those magazine copies [to be scanned], they are gone forever. That was one of the biggest limitations we faced when trying to convince our CEO to approve the project. We had enough copies of Ebony issues from 1960 forward to give them up; however, prior to 1960, many editions were either very rare or in questionable condition. We might have one or two copies of an issue, and we’re not willing to relinquish those. We’re actually planning to use that shortfall as a marketing opportunity, to reach out to our audience to search for copies of those older issues.