Vogue's much-hyped archive website goes live today, and as promised, it contains every single page from every issue dating back to the magazine's American debut in 1892. According to Vogue's press release, the site is searchable by decade, brand, designer, and photographer; you can also sort results by articles, images, covers, or ads. It's a wildly impressive undertaking to organize such a massive amount of information, and bravo to Vogue for providing a great tool for researching the historical context of moments in fashion and society.
However, accessing the archive is not quite so simple: For now, it's only available via subscription through WGSN, a trend forecasting company that partnered with Vogue to build the site, and an individual subscription costs a whopping $1,575 per year. If you're part of a company that wants access for research or branding purposes, then you can write WGSN an e-mail and they'll supposedly organize a package deal. Or, if you're already a subscriber to WGSN's trend forecasting services, then you get a special VIP membership. Finally, Vogue subscribers will get "select" access to the site starting in 2012. (It'll be interesting to see what Condé thinks its readers deserve.)
So, why is it so expensive to subscribe? Even to the target Vogue consumer, it's basically unaffordable. There's a mix of reasons for this, probably: first off, the site has no advertisers, which means that subscribers shoulder the full cost of its maintenance. This is odd, though, because it's a completely different financial model than the one used by almost every publication today, particularly web-based ones. Another explanation is that Vogue simply wants to keep its archive exclusive. However, that means that they're missing a huge opportunity to promote global awareness of their brand and its venerated history. Finally, perhaps Vogue is charging so much simply because they can. It's almost impossible to get your hands on some of these issues, and people spend years and tons of money amassing just a tiny fraction of the full archive.
Although there are obviously huge differences between Vogue Archive and Valentino's new virtual museum (for one thing, Vogue's has infinitely more content) it's worth noting that access to Valentino's site is entirely free. For a company like Valentino to open itself up to the masses as a source of inspiration and pleasure represents a far more modern strategy, one that luxury brands like Vogue — however exclusive they hope to portray themselves to be — could should consider when it comes to using the Internet in their favor. Anyway, check out the promotional video of Vogue's new site, since it might be the closest you ever get to its content.