The Magazine Rack of Babel


A nice celebration/prediction of what omnipresent Adobe technology has done/is doing for the cause of spreading and preserving old paper literature from Gary North at He also presents an entrepreneurial suggestion:

Magazine publishers are sitting on top of gold mines. National Geographic understood this early and put all of its old issues in a boxed set of CD-ROMs. This set originally retailed for $350. I bought a set at Sam?s Club for about $180 in 2000. The publisher made millions of dollars. (The box?s photo of an Afghan teenage girl with the huge eyes was worth a fortune as a sales device. A reporter tracked her down a couple of years ago. He showed her the NG cover. That was the only photo she ever had taken. She had not seen it. I wonder if she knows about signed release forms and royalties. Probably not.)

Right wing, left wing, it doesn?t matter. A magazine publisher can now put all of the back issues on-line or in a CD-ROM. Maybe he will hire you to do this on a contract basis if you present him with a free CD-ROM of one year of issues.

With Adobe Acrobat Pro, magazine publishers now have a bonanza available. They can convert long-dead inventory into money. They can offer a CD-ROM set of a complete 60-year set of the magazine for, say, $149.95, or for only $19.95 if someone subscribes or renews his subscription for three years.

Great suggestion. And for those publications no longer blessed with active continuing owners–like, say, many of the old science fiction magazines, and fanzines from the SF, comics, and indie music worlds I dote on and desultorily accumulate/collect–fans with web access will certainly be using the power of Adobe 6.0's instant page-to-PDF function, and Google's ability to search within those PDFs, to make lots and lots of, um, enthusiasts like me very happy indeed–and encourage us all to take the effort to make each other happy. (In fact, I'm surprised there hasn't been more of this type of action already–maybe I'm missing it.) This is truly an extraordinary and well-nigh miraculous age of cultural preservation and revival, and it should only get better.

NEXT: Second Davio's Anecdote (or, Why Mitt Romney Is Such an Asshole)

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  1. Left unmentioned is the fact that National Geographic didn’t bother to get permission from any of the photographers whose work they included on the CD-ROM, with the result that they got sued, had to pay something like $400,000, and had to pull the product.

  2. Ken Hagler’s got it right; there’s that little issue of rights. Many magazines buy only “first serial rights” to a piece; this means they have to renegotiate with the author to reissue it. The older the magazine, the harder it can be to track down the rights holder.

  3. Didn’t I hear this argument about a decade ago as one of the rationalizations for the Multimedia Revolution?

  4. That’s pretty close to my summer job. I scan out of print and out of copyright books for sale as digital versions.

  5. Let me see if I get the pitch: dead magazine websites with content kinda like Lileks, but with more of a profit motive and less gut-bustingly funny deconstructing commentary.

  6. The glorious Mad Magazine box set came out in 1998. I’d buy the Spy Magazine box set in an instant. I sympathize with Brian: Old Warren horror mags, Omni, the list of paper periodicals stacked like some nostalgic Stonehenge around my place is hefty.
    As more and more obscure movies are going to DVD (and DVD authoring houses are booked solid for the next few years) expect a similar trend in mags and comics. Already the first few trickles of comics-on-cdrom are appearing.

  7. It seems that this is a medium that is quite easy to copy and distribute ‘illegally’. I have seen TONS of major books and a decent amounts of comics traded on file-sharing networks. The relative small size of a PDF file makes this a major problem. I can’t see many people shelling out that much money if this format becomes even more widely distributed online.

  8. I’m all for affordable, accessible electronic archives of print materials, but is it preservation? Have you tried intsalling a program from a 10-year-old CD-ROM lately?

    The spec for PDF is publicly available and there are tools other than Adobe’s for reading them at the moment, but have you tried opening word processor files with well-documented formats from the early 1980s lately?

    Worse still is DRM-secured PDF content. DRM schemes seem to come and go every six months. There are several “standards” for secured, encrypted PDF alone, and if printing and the clipboard are disabled, woe unto anyone who stumbles across today’s secure PDFs in 20 years.

    I’m with Nicholson Baker: go make your electronic copies to sell with 3-packs of Cracker Jack, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that they constitute preservation of any kind. It’s dissemination of the most fleeting kind and it’s great. For preservation there’s still nothing that comes close to storing paper in a cool, dry room.

  9. For best results, write on sheepskin, and store in clay jars in a farmers field – guaranteed for 3000 years unless future civilizations dig them up sooner…

  10. Not quite what Brian wants but –

    And the following sites offer collectons of old radio shows (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Box 13 and like that) for download & on CD-ROM.

  11. Bring back old smut!

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