Case Study: Managing Magazine Archives with Katy Conover, Hearst UK

Katy Conover is Library Manager at Hearst UK

Hearst has a huge amount of print content going back decades. We have a good physical record of it, with bindings of every edition of every magazine where we’re able, as well as old transparencies and negatives. We receive a lot of requests to use current or recently published content (anything within the last 30 years is commonly asked for), and our print library is a convenient way to handle them, especially as a lot of the enquiries are at short notice. Sometimes it will take us longer to process permissions, especially if the content is still on a newsstand or in an exclusivity period.

Copyright waters can be muddier in historical content, and we may not hold (or even know if we hold) all the rights to the content we publish, so there are times when we check the legal status carefully. We have a system of rights codes that inform whether or not we allow people to use content, but if there is doubt then a risk strategy comes into place, and we may tell clients that they reuse material at their own risk. We want to make our content available, but we also need to make sure we’re protecting and compensating ourselves too. It’s a balance between a desire for accessibility and the realties of being part of a commercial operation.

Requestors who don’t understand the complexities of rights will sometimes be surprised if we can’t provide a simple yes or no answer to an enquiry, and we may have to manage their expectations on turnaround times. People might also be taken aback at a request for fee, even if it’s modest. We may need to educate them about the process, and explain why we need formal documentation to highlight the terms of our permission. By asking people to sign something and sending invoices, we have more recourse if we subsequently find that people have been using material incorrectly.

We are starting to treat our content as a proper archive as well as a reference point, and to explore the scope for licensing revenue. Our licensing teams work on brand partnerships, but we’re only scratching the surface in exploiting our wealth of content. More and more businesses are starting to realise that archives are worth money, and that historic content like ours can be leveraged for other platforms. It’s a growth area because people are looking for content that is ready to reuse. Anyone who doesn’t save their corporate archive now may be kicking themselves in years to come.

I’ve worked across public, private and now commercial archives, and in all three areas the main focus is usability. You can have the richest archive in the world, but if you don’t have the capability to identify, retrieve and monetise content then it’s of little use. A good digital archiving system will improve access for everyone, wherever they happen to be, and it comes down to what works best for each company’s needs and aims. 

About Katy

Katy Conover is currently the Library Manager for Hearst UK.  She has an MA in History of Design from the Royal College of Art and a BA in Theatrical Design from Knox College (USA).  She has worked in the Art & Design industry for over 10 years picking up expertise in content and licensing management, archive management, and knowledge of random facts.  She has previously worked for the Victoria & Albert Museum, Derry Moore Photography, and Bloomsbury Publishing.  She lives in North London with her wife and dreams of having an entire wall of books.