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Underground music magazine The Wire has made its entire back catalogue available online for the first time, allowing digital subscribers to access the issues through the magazine's apps and its website.

With 25,000 pages available in more than 350 issues, covering a 31-year period, it represented a considerable undertaking for the staff-owned magazine, which now joins the growing ranks of publications making their history available to the public in a digital format.

"The Wire's been publishing since '82," said Tony Herrington, the magazine's editor-in-chief, speaking to Journalism.co.uk.

"The magazine now is a consequence of what it has been in the past, so what we did in the past is relevant to what we are now and the kind of music we cover and the way we cover it. A lot of the back issues have been unavailable for a number of years, some of them for up to three decades".

The Wire began publishing digitally through Exact Editions in 2006 but had been digitally storing issues as PDFs since around the turn of the millennium. That left almost 20 years worth of magazines which only existed in print, said Herrington, meaning more than 150 back issues had to be scanned and converted into PDFs.

For the reader, the monthly subscription fee now grants access to the full, searchable archive of the publication, rather than just the latest issue. At Exact Editions, recent upgrades to the platform deliver what Daryl Rayner, managing director of Exact Editions, describes as a "deep reading experience", based on a searchable archive of issues, syncing individual issues to a reader's device and sharing pages and articles through messaging, email or social media.

"This idea of deep reading is something that's also quite important to us," she told Journalism.co.uk, "the idea that the reader gets this deep reading experience which really conveys the depth and breadth of a magazine because you're not just looking at one issue in isolation."

When it comes to more niche or "idiosyncratic" publications like The Wire, said Herrington, this process creates a stronger bond between the reader and publisher.

"Readers stick with them and become very loyal to the magazine," he said. "The magazines tend to have quite a direct relationship with the readers and I think those things are crucial.

"Those kind of relationships are crucial and this kind of thing can only help cement that."

Beyond individual readers and their subscriptions, Rayner said that Exact Editions offered institutional licenses for the publications, typically to libraries and educational establishments, so it could go beyond being a journalistic enterprise and into the realm of a public resource.

"Libraries can buy it on a site licence basis so students or library users can use it as a resource as part of their library membership," she said. "Yesterday I was talking to someone who runs a library that covers New York, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai so they are buying three site licenses for that title.

"It's an interesting revenue stream for publishers because site licences are sold at a much higher rate per site, per annum. It's 10 to 15 times the individual price."

This sort of institutional access is beneficial for casual readers or researchers, while the individual subscriptions bring a stronger connection to individuals, but potential benefits to publishers extend beyond it being just another revenue stream.

At the Wire, the archiving of every page and issue of the publication has created a resource for the staff as well as the readership. In what Herrington described as a "fairly chaotic" indexing system, as can be the case with some pre-web publications, he explained how the editorial team would often have to rely on their own collective memory in terms of when the magazine last covered a particular artist or topic. No longer, he says.

"Now, not only can we go back and use the archive as our own internal index but it means we can search by multiple different ways through it. So writers, individual musicians, even certain genres of music, key phrases, key words that have been cropping up just to track back.

"We can have a sense of our own history and therefore be truer to it and not repeat ourselves which is one of the things the magazine tries to pride itself on, not repeating itself. That for us is a fantastic resource. No one here was around when the magazine started so its a way for us to connect back, without getting too sentimental about it."

For smaller publications this is a valuable resource and Herrington believes that, although he initially felt scanned PDFs would be an "interim" technology for digital publishing, the demand for true representations of a publication in digital form is high.

"I think this is the way to do it, this is the way to publish online: PDFs, exact editions as it says, facsimiles of the physical copy. And tablets make it feasible.

"The iPad makes it feasible and I think building extra content in, rich content, I don't know if that is something that larger publishers seem to think is an imperative but smaller publishers think 'well actually what we're really selling is this thing here, this magazine, without trying to bolt on all these extras to persuade you to buy into it'."

The Wire's digital archive is available on the web, iOS, Android and Kindle Fire, with individual subscriptions priced at £3.99 a month or £29.99 per year.

Update: This article was updated to correct the total number of pages to 25,000, not 250,000 as originally stated.

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