As the final component of my graduate program I was required to develop and write a research paper. At the time I was working as an intern at Balboa Park Online Collaborative learning about how cultural institutions are using technology in innovative ways to generate revenue. One revenue stream is the licensing and reproduction of images or digital surrogates that are created when institutions digitize their collections. As part of my research I surveyed nine organizations in the museum complex of Balboa Park. These institutions included: the San Diego History Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Air & Space, Mingei International Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, The San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Man, the Timken Museum of Art, and the Balboa Park Online Collaborative.
Each organization was discussed as a case study where its revenue models, strategies, strengths and weaknesses, and evaluation processes for determining the models effectiveness were examined. Some of my key findings from my research discovered that institutions are using different open access approaches to images of collections. Now this may impact the amount of revenue generated from sales, but more evaluation is needed to weed out other contributing factors; Institutions are not establishing written business plans for their image licensing and reproduction services, nor are these institutions closely weighing their expenses verses their revenue generated to determine the service is at the very least maintaining profit neutrality; Some institutions have no visible promotion of this service on their websites; and Institutions aren’t clear on how they are defining the success of these models.
One comment that was reiterated by staff throughout interviews was that their institution was not focused on monetizing its collections. Fair enough. These institutions are non-profit, and they are in the business of education and sharing their collections with the public. BUT why can’t they be both? An institution for the people that also works to make itself self-sustaining. I know monetizing the collection is not a focus, but if the institutions are more interested in making their collections more accessible then they really should devote some space on their website to advertising these image licensing and reproduction services. What better way making your collection accessible to the point that visitors or admirers can purchase a piece to have in their home?
This brings me to another comment that was made several times in interviews, the culture within the institution was not conducive to increasing investment into digital endeavors. This kind of push back on technological advancements in museums is nothing new, but the tides are turning. Generations like mine who will one day be at the helm have grown up with technology since early childhood. It is very much a part of us. Whether you think this is good or bad depends on who you ask, and really isn’t touching on the point I am trying to make. Museums are progressing, but are they progressing fast enough to stay relevant?
Now that I have slightly gone off topic I will leave you with this… Can institutions find that balance of being in the business of education and access, and the business of self-sustainability?
If you are interested in reading my paper in its entirety I have provided a link below.