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V I I I . 1 I n t ro d u c t i o n : A d a p t i n g t o t h e p re s s u re
t o ,, g o c o m m e rc i a l "
"I think there can be two meanings to exploitation. First of all, typically commercial. And
secondly, for most memory institutions, something which could be more sensible, maybe you could
call it intelligent exploitation (...). So not purely in commercial terms, but looking for, let's say, a
return of investment kind of approach."
Friso Visser, Price Waterhouse Coopers, DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24, 2001
This part of the DigiCULT-study focuses on the exploitation of cultural heritage infor-
mation, products and services. Although often not a primary target of day-to-day work as
well as new projects of cultural heritage institutions, exploitation is a major line of un-
locking the value of cultural heritage in the Information Society.To talk about exploitation
is first of all an indication, that what is provided will not be free of charge, no "free ride" as
the Internet surfer lingo would call it, but offerings one has to pay for (e.g. single payment
or subscriptions).Yet, examples of exploitation in this study will cover activi-ties that might
be profitable and help to cover some of the overall costs of an institution, or that might not
be profitable, in that they for example only cover the running costs.
High commercial expectations through digital media
Generally, thinking about and actively exploring new opportunities to exploit their
information, objects, and knowledge is not very common to European cultural heritage
institutions. Commercial activities are something they were rarely involved with as they
traditionally dealt with cultural artefacts that are seen as public goods and are inclined to be
services for the public that are mostly provided free of charge.There are of course some
exceptions to this, distinct areas and practices where "being commercial" seems legitimate,
as for example museum gift shops or licensing images to publishers.
The rise in digital media, and in particular the Internet, has brought with it the high
expectation to optimise, add value to, or even re-invent an organisation's mission-related
activities. However, for cultural heritage organisations this adds to the pressure to become
commercial players and "valorise" their holdings (with some favourite candidates as in
particular images).
Yet, for institutions driven by a mission that usually includes to make information
available for education and academic research, it might seem to be a paradox that at the
moment when for them the marginal costs of reproduction and delivery of information are
tending towards zero they are asked to charge for it:"A lot of our publishing, which was the
old stuff we used to do, was done on a kind of cost recovery basis, recovery of marginal
costs only. I mean some of the vast expensive catalogues we produce are not covering the
costs of actually generating this, because that is all hidden. And I am uneasy, because that is
what the Government is giving our funding for: why, if there is virtually no marginal cost
in having developed material in publishing it, should we be thinking of charging. (...) This
is one of the things about the digital world, it is not integrated enough into the general
understanding of what the institution does." (Oliver Watson,Victoria and Albert Museum;
DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24, 2001)
Some experts see the "economic shift" as a threat to the mission of memory institutions.
They recognise that the organisation's mission is being blurred and might even be redefined
on the basis of unproven economic expectations.