Digging Up the Past: Publishing Archives Can Have A Second Life
Today Rolling Stone announced that Lou Reed would be featured on the cover of its next issue hitting newsstands this Friday. The post previewing what readers can expect in the issue says senior writer David Fricke combed through his archives of interviews with Reed and found quotes from the musician's associates, such as the unforgettable Andy Warhol.
While the in-depth cover story features plenty original reporting by Fricke, the issue is a reminder of how much valuable archived content publishers have at their disposal -- and how it goes underutilized except for special occasions such as this. The post announcing the Reed-fronted issue links to a collection of photos of Reed throughout his career and a collection of must-hear Reed songs as streaming Youtube videos. On top of that, Rolling Stone has at its disposal a catalogue of album reviews, news stories and feature articles spanning Reed's 40-plus-year career.
Rolling Stone has started making its entire online archive available to magazine subscribers. However, the problem is that it's not that fun or convenient to navigate these articles online. The publication has also started assembling career spanning artist timelines, pulling together all the content on a given artist. From what I can gather, the only artist with this feature so far is Bruce Springsteen. But again, the web browser doesn't lend well to what I see as an immersive, "lean back" reading experience. And as the Springsteen timeline stands, it doesn't take advantage of the great artwork that originally accompanied these articles.
Done right, this kind of experience would work extremely well on tablet and could be managed without a lot of heavy production lifting.
Incidentally, online music publication Pitchfork announced the launch of its first mobile app yesterday. Light years ahead of Rolling Stone when it comes to web know-how, the magazine-style app has been dubbed Pitchfork Weekly and is intended to offer "a totally immersive experience with Pitchfork's original content in an offline environment."
Here's more in Pitchfork's own words:
"It will serve as a 'weekly magazine' version of the site, drawing inspiration from the design of a print publication with enhanced photos, graphics, and long-form features and cover stories. With the pace of the web, it can sometimes be difficult to slow down and engage with great writing, and the sheer amount of words that we publish each week can be overwhelming. Pitchfork Weekly allows for a more focused reading experience, while at the same time taking advantage of the multimedia possibilities tablet and mobile apps provide."
Yes, tally up another online publication pursuing a magazine-style experience for readers that want to dig deep and really process what they're reading.
It might sound callous, but if Rolling Stone had had a tablet-based artist spotlight on Reed "ready to go," it would have sold thousands of downloads within days of Reed's passing and gained brand exposure to a younger crowd. And interested readers would have gotten a definitive retrospective of an important artist from a reliable source, with spectacular depth of reporting and visual design. An opportunist himself, I don't think Reed would have batted an eye.
Long live Lou.
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Related story: The New Non-Obsolescence of the Written Word
Denis Wilson is the content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzes and reports on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aims to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.