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Loss of income

Simon Tanner explored the impact of digital technology on pricing models and policies in a 2004 study that surveyed one hundred American art museums. In spite of lowered production and distribution costs, he found that “most museums interviewed assume their [imaging and rights services’] operating costs will be higher than their revenue.” See note 1 , Museum Licensing Fees: Practice and Rationale.

The study found that few museums have tracked actual costs in the digital age, but many cite the extensive resources and staff involved in creating and delivering images. These include equipment to capture, manage, and store digital images; preparators to move objects; highly trained photographers to shoot and correct the digital files; and rights and licensing staff to service clients. Although most museums have assumed that the cost of creating photography was higher than the revenue derived from image licensing, Tanner found that “there is pressure from senior museum management on all aspects of the museum to make more money.” Ibid. Internal requests for photography, which are often uncharged, account for 50–75 percent of the service activity. This places the burden of cost recovery on external transactions, thus making museums averse to waiving fees for scholarly publication.

Costs of collection information management and digital imaging

In 1997, the Getty Foundation began a six-year electronic cataloging initiative among twenty-one Los Angeles museums. The final report on the project discusses the dramatic improvement in the way the participating museums now document and access collections, reach new and existing audiences, and support teaching and learning. Ann Schneider, “L. A. Art Online: Learning from Getty’s Electronic Cataloguing Initiative. A Report from the Getty Foundation, Los Angeles, California,” Getty Foundation, 2007, (External Link) . These benefits can be difficult to quantify, but the costs are real. Staff freed from more mundane clerical tasks can focus on collections research, conservation, and interpretation, and enjoy streamlined workflow museum-wide. However, effective technology use requires initial training and an ongoing commitment to staff development. As staff members acquire higher technical skills, they understandably expect appropriate compensation. Also requiring new expenditures: building secure networks, storage, and backup systems; implementing and maintaining collections databases; acquiring imaging equipment and continuing photographic documentation projects; and improving online collections access through new user interface. Schneider, “L.A. Art Online,” 32.

Although startup projects are frequently funded by grants and contributions from private donors, technology requires sustainable funding. In short, no one sells technology in museums by claiming to reduce the overall operating or capital budgets, although it can reduce the cost of tasks that were previously labor-intensive. Digital sustainability is jeopardized if museums fail to understand and integrate ongoing technology costs into the operating budget.

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Source:  OpenStax, Art museum images in scholarly publishing. OpenStax CNX. Jul 08, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10728/1.1
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