There has been much debate about how we might help secure the future of digital scholarship for the next generation of learners, teachers and researchers. The business end of how this might be achieved in regards revenue generation beyond host institutional support remains a challenge.
Part of this debate raises concerns whether future generations will have access to and use of digital collections: those from galleries, libraries, archives and museums within and outside our universities. The focus has mostly been on digital curation and preservation but now is also the time to consider how revenue generation, beyond host institution support, can be achieved.
As part of our role as a partner in the Strategic Content Alliance, we’ve been working towards seeing that digital collections are ‘built to last’ as the digital terrain continues to change rapidly.
We can envisage some practitioners thinking ‘my host institution will take care of my new collection’, which many will, but which some will not. Alternatively they may simply ‘archive’ it. For practitioners who intend to continue developing and enhancing their digital resources and serving users who have come to rely on them, we’ve worked with Ithaka S+R to develop a guide.
This guide goes beyond the standard text book on business models available elsewhere. It gives real world examples of various methods project leaders can consider when seeking to secure ongoing revenue and other sorts of funding for their work. The guide includes income generating models from across the globe offering the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each approach.
Our guide updates and enhances an earlier edition from 2008, a world before the fiscal crash and when internet business models were only just emerging for non-profit organisations and alike. It now includes coverage of freemium models and crowdfunding and all units have been expanded and updated.
The bigger picture
As it becomes increasingly important to demonstrate impact, institutional leaders and project managers need to think more broadly of ’sustainability’ as something well beyond the preservation of content, data and metadata or a particular website. Our guide asks inconvenient questions concerning the pros and cons of particular approaches to sustaining digital content, moving beyond the over-simplified Open Access vs pay walls debate. The digital world is not ‘flat’ but rounded.
As the guide’s author, Nancy Maron, program director, sustainability and scholarly communications at Ithaka, describes in the executive summary:
“Whether a digital project was created with a significant grant from public funds or subsidized by the hard work and volunteer effort of a devoted group of partners, it has become clear that there are substantial costs involved in keeping these resources up and running and delivering value to those who use them.”
How our universities, libraries, museums and others start to recognise and address the issues of sustainability of digital collections will be essential if they are to remain relevant to audiences spoilt for choice in regards to digital content over the long term.
We’ve had some excellent feedback so far. Dr Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, said:
“Ensuring the long-term sustainability of digital resources is a key challenge. By demonstrating the range of revenue models available, and the pros and cons of each, this excellent guide will help organisations make informed decisions about delivery of digital content”.
We’re committed to supporting the UK in its endeavour to develop and sustain digital collections and hope that this new and practical guide provides insights into how to develop effective sustainability planning. We also hope that it will provide inspiration in adopting the most appropriate model(s) to allow long-term access and use to your collections.
For further information on emergent internet business models and sustainability please visit the Strategic Content Alliance blog.