Digital archive of Times content in beta testing

A long-promised plan to create a public digital archive of Times and Sunday Times stretching back to the 18th century is coming to fruition.

Speaking at the PPA Magazines 2008 conference yesterday, Times Online editor-in-chief Anne Spackman said the archive, stretching back to 1785, is currently in the beta testing stage.

All of the Times Archive will be free or a limited period, but users will be required to register in order to view articles in the archive, according to a Frequently-Asked Questions page for the new service.

The articles are shown as image file of the original printed page. The archive is fully searchable because the scanned pages have been run through optical-character recognition software. This is the same approach that the Guardian used for its archive, which was launched last November.

The plan was first alluded to by Times Online publisher Zach Leonard in late 2006. By February 2007, the process of digitising the Times had been completed, and the process of digitising the Sunday Times archive was under way.

At the time, Leonard suggested that the archive would build traffic to the site but could also be used for develop paid-for packages of content, such as articles by famous writers who had written for the paper.

Many newspapers and magazines around the world have increasingly been turning to their archives to boost the volume of content available on their websites.

The Guardian and Observer unveiled a paid-for archive service last November.

In March, the New York Times reported that search traffic to its archive pages has more than doubled since its online archive became free last September.

Gramophone magazine has plans to digitise its entire 85-year archive.

Recently US magazine Sports Illustrated launched a comprehensive online archive known as The Vault. The magazine expects the site to account for about 5 per cent of its online traffic.

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