Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
3 mins read

Why publishers are investing in their archive content

American news and culture weekly The Atlantic has just launched 165 years of historic archive content

Fresh content is crucial to keeping your most engaged audience members happy. But, as The Atlantic’s recent archive launch underlines, there is real value in archive content. Clever curation can resurface the very best from your publication’s past and readers will pay for access to archive content that they are passionate about.


  • The fast pace of digital publishing means publishers often move on to the next story without considering the real worth of their content archives. But audiences with niche interests value historic perspectives or deep dives into their passions.
  • It was an understanding of that audience interest that led The Atlantic to embark on a nine-month project to make its entire back catalogue of 19,000 magazines available to subscribers online. Reaching back 165 years, the monthly will publish almost 30,000 articles, reviews, short stories, and poems written between its founding in 1857 and its website launch in 1995.
  • There is an academic element to the Atlantic’s archive project with original writing from notable authors like Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Mark Twain. However, there is also a commercial aspect to the initiative. Locked behind the publication’s paywall, archive access will be positioned as a subscriber benefit, as well as supporting increased advertising inventory. Chief executive Nick Thompson predicts the venture will recoup its costs within two to three years.

Repurposing content

  • The Atlantic archive project hasn’t simply been about digitising back copies. While audiences can access complete issues – April 1930, for example, the team at the magazine has developed a variety of ways to resurface engaging content from the past.
  • A straightforward text search lets users find content by author or subject, while tags are used to highlight topics. The editors have also picked a selection of notable articles and commissioned contemporary writers to comment on the work of past contributors. Author ‘box-sets’ are also available.
  • The clear evidence of the Atlantic’s efforts to repackage its historic content echoes advice given in a recent interview with Rolling Stone’s Charlotte Cijffers. She explained how even ‘dated’ content can be repurposed:

Young people are so highly referential, and they’re obsessed with the 90’s and 00’s. There’s a huge opportunity for [culture and fashion] publishers to continue to optimise and re-optimise that content to keep bringing in that groundswell of traffic.

SEO advantages

Publishers sometimes shy away from reusing articles, fearing that Google will mark them down for not publishing fresh content. But a recent article in Search Engine Land suggests that half the time dedicated to SEO efforts should be spent on updating old content.

  • Bruce Clay points out that ‘freshness’ is not a huge concern for Google’s Page Quality rating. He explains that, over time, content builds links and visibility, creating ‘a lot of page value’. Content can depreciate over time, but Clay says if it is well maintained, it can remain a valuable asset.
  • He recommends a web content audit to identify weak and under-performing content that can be improved. He recommends focusing on pages that already rank well or have the potential to move from page two to page one. For the worst performing pages, they may need a content refresh or a redirect to more current content on the same subject.
  • According to Clay, to strengthen their SEO program, publishers need to spend 50% of their content-focused time creating new webpages and 50% refreshing the old. He said:

Get into a rhythm of identifying existing pages related to each new page, and either update or consolidate them as part of your content creation process.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends is a division of, a content analytics and revenue generation platform for digital publishers. For weekly updates and analysis on the industry news you need as a media and publishing business, subscribe to Spiny’s Trends weekly email roundup here.