There’s still no substitute for the real thing but unless you have a full collection or a penchant for flea markets, at least you can flip through virtual editions of every Life magazine between 1936 and 1972 — courtesy of an expanded partnership between Time Inc. and Google (NSDQ: GOOG). The two started to work together late last year with the launch of the Life Photo Archive, promising some 10 million images eventually in the hopes of driving traffic to the newest version of Life.com. This effort is with Google Books, which wants to show how it’s working with publishers to bring offline content online in a usable format. Google increases what can be found through search — the pages include sponsor links; Life gets a logo link on every page served, a subscription link for its e-mail newsletter, and, I believe, rev share. (Google Product Manager Brandon Badger’s intro of the project is here.)
It’s also the latest example of Google’s efforts to create an online user experience that has some print sensibilities. Google Fast Flip, the experiment launched with several dozen media outlets last week, is about getting web-based news up in a fast-to-read format and organizing it in a variety of ways. Life on Google Books is a different way of experiencing a magazine:
— the “thumbnail view” shows every page in the magazine at once in the context of the original layout. The 1972 Year in Pictures marked the end of Life’s longest run as a weekly.
— Issues can be browsed by year, decade, key words. Each issue can be searched separately — or all issues can be searched at once. I didn’t have a lot of luck with “year in pictures” for some reason.
— Complete means complete: ads, letters to the editor, cover to cover.
— A little strange to see Google Maps with a heavy presence. The map per issue pinpoints the locations mentioned in the text. For instance, a story in the Dec. 28, 1936 issue about Speaker of the House William Brockman Bankhead has lot of pinpoins in his home state of Alabama with this annotation: “Jasper, Alabama – Page 10, THE people of Jasper, Ala., think that the house above is pretty big for two people and a fox terrier. But the Bankheads are the first family of …”
It’s not without glitches but so far it’s a good application of current technology to old-time publishing — and possibly a way to make money from it.