Hard on the heels of the AAUP (covered below) came the biannual National Museum Publishing Seminar (June 21-23), which also took place in Chicago, bringing with it questions of how effective museum publishers’ efforts have been in the digital space. Every two years, museums and other arts and university presses gather for programs addressing publishing concerns of organizations across the country. Attendance was at an all-time high with 271 registered, and panelists came from institutions like the Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and National Gallery of Art. It is a particularly collegial meeting of participants who share the same issues facing art book publishers, and who often collaborate on projects.
Bedevilled as museums are with how to make illustrated ebooks and apps and what to do about print sales when Amazon out-discounts and outsells everyone, they must also deal with the challenge of attracting younger visitors. This has resulted in partnerships with bloggers, web designers, producers and other consultants, in an effort to personalize the voice of the museum, a mission that requires a great deal of work but doesn’t always return the requisite or anticipated income.
Christie Henry, Editorial Director for Science at the University of Chicago presented their experience with creating their app Gems and Jewels, a joint venture with Touch Press and The Field Museum. Derived from the book Gems and Gemstones (“Jewels” was added to the app title to appeal to a “tradier” audience), they sold 6400 apps at $13.99. The app was even named iTunes App of the Week, a difficult honor to earn. The print edition sold about 5400 at $45 and based on Henry’s calculations, the production required 348 hours of staff time, a one-time $3000 fee for the rights to a Marilyn Monroe sound track (guess which one?), and they recouped 90% of their costs in a little less than a year. The impression given, however, was that it was a lot of work for a store as non-book-friendly as the Apple App Store, and they were frustrated by the limitation Apple put on the number of review copy apps permitted — an unusual state of affairs for publishers, who are used to review copies being the most cost-effective promotional tool for their titles.
Certainly museum PR staff has been increased, much as in trade publishing, and Kristi McGuire, New Media Manager at the University of Chicago Press gave an elaborate accounting of her average day online that astonished many in the audience. Nevertheless it’s unclear whether digital outreach in the form of blogs and podcasts such as Bad at Sports (with 500,000 page views per month) are actually increasing the number of visitors to museums.
The panel dealing with museum stores had conducted a survey of stores via SurveyMonkey and presented its somewhat surprising results. 25% of retail sales were reported to be books, and the gross profit on museums’ own publications is the same on average as their other merchandise. Sharon Gallagher, Executive Director of Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. reported that the 12.5% to 16% of her sales to museum stores was unchanged in the 22 years she’s been in business.