V. Key Issues and Recommendations
Exploitation: Valorising cultural heritage resources
Making exploitation work for cultural heritage institutions
Today, many cultural heritage institutions are seeking
a place in the online market and are looking for "niches" and
business models that might work for them. The objective of these institutions
is not to become commercial but to gain some revenues in order to finance
at least a part of their cost-intensive operations (e.g. total cost of
ownership of collections).
In sorting out what is appropriate for exploitation,
experts in the cultural heritage field draw a line between commercial
services versus uses that should be free of charge. In the latter group
most often mentioned are educational uses of material as well as basic
information services, e.g. online catalogues, bibliographical information
or standard research on collections.
Whereas for higher-value services charging seems appropriate,
it needs to be highlighted that in the educational sector the subscription
fees will most often not be paid by the individual users (teachers, students)
but by the educational institutions or the responsible public entities.
In the Exploitation part of the DigiCULT-study an overview
and assessment of online business models for cultural heritage institutions
is given. The following paragraphs summarise the results and provide a
set of recommendations for policy and institutional decision-makers.
issue 1: Online user attention and information
Selling user attention (e.g. banners on a website) has
low commercial potential. Offering online advertisement opportunities
might be a business line for major cultural heritage institutions, networks
or portals. But, generally, advertisement for cultural heritage institutions
seems suitable mostly in the framework of major sponsorships for a project
rather than the whole website.
Selling user information is clearly not an appropriate
line of business for cultural heritage institutions. What the institutions
themselves need to do is gather more detailed information on their users
to be able to adapt and further develop their services according to changing
Recommendation 35: Cultural heritage institutions
should use the attention they receive from visitors for marketing their
own products and services.
Recommendation 36: Cultural heritage institutions
should gather and exchange user information in order to adapt and further
develop the services they provide to users.
Recommendation 37: For smaller, less known institutions
cultural heritage networks and platforms should act as aggregators of
attention and provide them with user information and feedback.
issue 2: E-retailing: Physical products
Selling physical products via online channels is an option
and actually a practice of many cultural heritage institutions (in particular
museum giftshops). For small institutions it might be a plus, for major
institutions or specialised actors it can represent a considerable line
Generally, institutions that want to develop an e-retailing
business need to be aware of the potential channel rivalry between their
in-house and online shop. Additional costs for the online business line
might not pay off.
Prerequisites for success are to establish a brand and
in particular to develop unique products that are (ideally) related to
in-house collections. Furthermore, in order to bring their products to
the attention of many potential consumers cultural heritage institutions
need to intensively co-operate with intermediaries in the sector (including
e.g. tourism agencies).
Recommendation 38: Cultural heritage institutions
should explore the opportunity to develop unique physical products related
to in-house collections as well as to market and sell them online.
Recommendation 39: In order to avoid market failures,
cultural heritage institutions should reduce risks and seek partnerships
with established user focused agencies, institutions or companies (e.g.
Recommendation 40: Smaller institutions should intensively
co-operate with cultural heritage intermediaries, networks and portals
that aggregate visitors to market their products.
issue 3: Digital product development
Developing and marketing digital cultural products (e.g.
cultural CD-ROMs) is still a risky and costly business. Returns from most
off-line multimedia products have shown to be very limited, profit often
being not more than 1-3%, with many products not reaching the break-even
Experts recommend that the development of online cultural
heritage multimedia be made the priority, and that an off-line product
be offered only in the case of an online success and a proven demand for
such a product.
After the experiences of the last ten years in the multimedia
market the willingness of cultural industry players to put money into
cultural multimedia projects will be limited. Yet, in order to develop
attractive products and bring them to a broad market creative and commercial
partnerships might be very helpful.
Recommendation 41: National and regional governments
should support cultural heritage institutions in developing digital on-
and off-line products that bring the richness of their collections to
a broader public. If partnerships between institutions and creative or
commercial companies are needed for market success, appropriate measures
should be put in place to stimulate such partnerships, e.g. public-private
co-financing or sponsorship models.
Recommendation 42: In order to generate digital cultural
products, including material from lesser known institutions and collections,
national and regional governments should support setting up creative and
commercial centres that might favourably be implemented within organisations
that manage cultural heritage networks and platforms.
issue 4: Digital commerce - licensing
Digital commerce, i.e. selling or licensing digital/digitised
objects online, is today explored by many cultural heritage institutions.
Licensing digital surrogates of objects from (special) collections is
seen as the most promising market, yet, it must be highlighted that this
is primarily a Business to Business market.
According to a market study conducted for the Canadian
Heritage Information Network (CHIN), across the most relevant market segments
(i.e. publishers, broadcasters, multimedia companies, advertisers and
corporations) relevant cultural heritage resources are mostly images,
and to a much lesser degree other material such as film and video footage.
Being the most content-driven cultural industries, publishers and broadcasters
are the most likely to have a need for intellectual property of cultural
heritage institutions, while the small multimedia companies (i.e. CD-ROM
and web site developers and producers) are much less relevant.
Barriers to market entry are high and cultural heritage
institutions need to find and intensively develop their niche in competition
with stock agencies or brokers that set the state-of-the-art in online
licensing (and surely dominate the advertising and corporate market for
The list of key elements that cultural heritage institutions
need to effectively exploit resources online are:
- standard electronic on/off-line catalogues,
- standardised and well understood rate structures for various uses,
- end-to-end clearance (preferably a centralised one for many cultural
heritage institutions), as well as
- quick turnaround time.
An option for cultural heritage institutions may be to
seek partnerships with existing agencies or brokers (rather than build
in-house systems), yet such an option seems to be realistic only for institutions
with high valued art or unique special collections.
Overall, it must be highlighted that it is only where
the intrinsic, authentic nature of cultural heritage sources is perceived
as valuable (and the expert knowledge related to relevant material is
an essential plus) that a considerable market potential exists.
Recommendation 43: Cultural heritage institutions
should build on their strengths, authenticity, knowledge-based interpretation
and contextualisation, and use new technologies to develop their own niche
markets for licensed resources.
Recommendation 44: Cultural heritage institutions
should develop the necessary elements they need for licensing resources
effectively (e.g. standard electronic on/off-line catalogues, standardised
rate structures for various uses, end-to-end clearance, and a turnaround
time that is appropriate for the main customers).
issue 5: Strategic development of shared themes of common interest
Cultural heritage collections do not lend themselves
easily to commercial exploitation. For example, out of a historic image
archive only a small fraction of the holdings (perhaps 5 to 10 percent)
might be of any commercial relevance if available in digital form online.
In addition, future customer segments are not readily evident. ‘They do
not just walk through the door’. The personnel of the institution would
have to completely re-focus its work on marketing and selling the material
to the most relevant customers. Experts believe that first, a ‘critical
mass’ of digital cultural heritage collections should be produced to enable
customers to find what they are looking for. This approach seems to influence
many cultural heritage institutions towards mass-digitisation of their
holdings, yet these investments are unlikely to pay off.
A more reasonable approach to market digital surrogates
of cultural heritage resources would be to develop shared themes of common
interest in which players throughout the cultural sector (including e.g.
publishers and broadcasters) could buy into. Such themes would
- stimulate the public interest in particular cultural heritage topics
- create new market potential for institutional and commercial players
in the cultural sector, and
- provide a basis for a purposeful digitisation of certain special collections.
Recommendation 45: Cultural heritage institutions
should, together with cultural councils, cultural industry and media partners,
strategically develop and heavily market cultural and historical themes
in order to create a basis for the purposeful digitisation of certain
issue 6: Subscription-based information services and virtual environments
Information services are a major domain for libraries,
with traditional commercial (non-subscription-based) services being document
supply and custom research. With regard to new online services one can
say that commercial success or even sustainability in the world of scholarly
and educational libraries is far from being easily achievable (if it is
a declared target of projects). These libraries stick to their mission
as ideally free information hubs and develop valuable online solutions
for special material needed in scholarly research and education (e.g.
digitisation of journals, material for course readings).
Yet, in the digital environment competition is growing
for the future face of ‘the library’ and the question will be whether
the established libraries will in the long term be the places to go for
relevant e-material. Mainly because the major commercial players increasingly
control the complete online information chain and, in particular, the
Without a complete change in the model of scholarly publishing,
libraries will have to direct users to these commercial services for online
access to most current published material.
Recommendation 46: In order to play a relevant role
on the market for online access to e-material, libraries should build
up their own digital collections from all resources they can get, e.g.
by managing collections for various parties in the publishing cycle as
well as digitising parts of their collections.
Recommendation 47: The European Commission should
commission an in-depth market analysis of international and European players
on the market for subscription-based access to published works as well
as conditions that might lead to market dominance and control.
With regard to historical public records and other archive
material an explorative DigiCULT case study looked into the online genealogy
and family history market. This booming market is today dominated by major
commercial players that are US based (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com). Furthermore,
it needs to be highlighted that these players are expanding, i.e. integrating
the information of European databases into their stock.
Recommendation 48: With many European archives now
starting projects to get into the online genealogy and family history
market, in-depth analysis and regular monitoring is required, taking into
account international as well as national developments.
- The European Commission should commission a study on the European/global
market for genealogy.
- In order not to let extra-European players completely take over the
genealogy & family history market, appropriate sector and institutional
policy measures should be set.
- Public records and related archival institutions should themselves
closely observe and proactively explore their opportunities on the genealogy
market. They should define and develop their own position and strategy
(depending e.g. on their holdings) as well as favourable strategic partnerships.
- Institutions in the field should also look into lessons that can be
learned from the genealogy & family history market. A key factor
for commercial success in this market is building and/or supporting
communities of users.
Subscription-based virtual environments, in particular
for e-learning, are today being explored by major museums as well as new
cultural heritage organisations (e.g. louvre.edu, SCRAN, AMICO). In Europe,
these projects are not commercially driven, but developed within projects
that are publicly funded. The aim of these projects is to build protected
environments that provide high-value cultural heritage resources for educational
use. Commercial ventures related to the cultural heritage sector are rare
(e.g. Fathom.com) and of questionable success.
Recommendation 49: National and regional governments
should support the establishment of virtual protected environments as
the most relevant future platforms for cultural e-learning.