New Tools, Old Trade: Digital Publishing at the 2013 College Art Association Trade Show

The College Art Association’s 101st Annual Conference (held this year in New York, from February 13-16 at the New York Hilton) is primarily a spot for grad students seeking for jobs in the academic art world; professional symposia; and panels on such popular topics as “Eschatology in Art Historiography.” Tucked amongst all this heavy-hitting scholarship, the CAA Book and Trade Show gives businesses and organizations that are part of the wider world of art scholarship and preservation.

Of the many Big Issues on display at this year’s fair, it was the licensing aspect of the art owner/publisher relationship that loomed largest, making itself felt in a variety of ways. Tom Prins, owner of the book exhibit company The Scholar’s Choice, says that the hurdle of digital image licensing is the single largest reason why he doesn’t anticipate major change among their clients’ physical print offerings in the next year or so. He pointed out that even the few images in a work of philosophy or an artist biography can be legal hassle enough to keep a small press’ title out of the Cloud and on the Scholar’s Choice exhibit table.

Jennifer Norton, Assistant Director of Penn State University Press, wholeheartedly confirms that “the navigation of digital licensing and permissions issues is one of the most significant hurdles for first-time authors, as well as for academic presses.” The Art History Publication Initiative was established to help small presses and their first-time authors tackle precisely these sorts of challenges. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Initiative will allow debut art history authors from four academic presses—University of Washington, Duke, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania–access to the resources and expertise necessary to make 40 new titles available (10 from each press) in all major digital and print formats over the next five years. Grant funds go toward a managing editor and permissions manager who specialize in digital issues and whose skills are shared amongst the four presses. The Initiative also includes digital marketing dollars and enhanced video and audio material on a shared website linked to each individual title.

Helping art collections and authors successfully collaborate on digital issues beyond licensing is the goal of panOpticon, a content management system software company. PanOpticon has been working with institutional clients like the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and Adelson Galleries for the past five years, with a particular concentration on Catalogues Raisonné–including those of Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, and Paul Cezanne. “It’s not that all these institutions haven’t had sophisticated digital cataloguing systems for a number of years now–it’s that they were unintelligible to anyone without a library science degree,” says Roger Shepherd, panOpticon’s Founder and Creative Director. The database was built in line with the standards and practices of the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association (CRSA), with the goal of being an accessible starting place for any outside author or packager brought in at the start of an art collection’s publication process. The software stores long-form text and extra-textual materials likely to be included in an illustrated publishing project, and automatically formats all fields to Chicago Manual Style when exported.

Whether the focus is licensing or publishing workflow, the over-arching issue at CAA 2013 was digital tools’ capacity to turn long-existing art collections into a greater wealth of resources than ever before. All returning exhibitors agreed they saw a rise in the presence of digital, including an increase in first-time exhibitors like panOpticon, for which digital is the primary focus of business. Nevertheless, the overall mood was not so much one of ready-made, large-scale solutions, but of individual voices identifying the most important questions to address over a period of years and from a variety of perspectives.