Is the perceived cost of digitally archiving your collection making you hesitant to move forward with an important project? Monetizing archival collections may be the answer!
Monetizing an archival collection involves electronically transforming the collection in a way that allows people to access it online for a fee. You use the digital collection to provide revenue to your organization, so the project helps pay for itself while allowing users to access what they need from the archives. TIME, Harper’s Weekly, Vanity Fair, and other magazines are transforming their historical collections in this way.
To monetize, your digitized collection needs to be available online. This has many benefits, including a variety of options for display and customization. With an online interface, the documents are beautifully preserved, interactive, and searchable.
Optical character recognition (OCR) creates document searchability, which is a prime benefit of digitization. Being able to search the full text—especially when there are thousands of documents in a database—can be life-changing for researchers. OCR takes digitizing to a new level, but it does require more time and resources for the digitization process. However, doing the project right the first time with quality and precision means your collection will be preserved long term and it could fund itself.
Anyone thinking about archiving their collection usually has a vision of what they want it to look like on-screen, but a limited budget could cripple the effort to make a well-preserved collection shareable with the world.
What Does Monetizing Look Like?
Say your organization has a website with a newsletter that averages one million subscribers. If 1% of those subscribers were willing to pay for enhanced archival access at $1/month, your collection would generate $120,000 annually. Engaging 4% of your subscribers would result in almost half a million dollars in revenue. If just a fraction of your current constituency engages with your digitized collection, the results could be substantial.
The key is strategically marketing subscriptions to users and organizations that will directly benefit from your collection. Think of the potential users. Do you have subscribers already, users accessing or already paying for access to a printed or digital newsletter? Current print and email subscribers might be attracted to the ability to access a digital collection for more robust study of their interest. Libraries, schools, archives, research centers, museums, and organizations specializing in the field of your collection would also be promising candidates.
It is important to consider where the paywall is placed. What materials, if any, are accessible for free, and what materials or functions are available only for a fee? Do you want all users to have to pay for the services (hard paywall), or do you want to grant users limited access to the documents and pay a subscription for full access or for specific functions (metered paywall)? Maybe you’d prefer to make the collection only available to members. The paywall’s location and function are dynamic, as customizable as the way your collection will be displayed, and can be adjusted based on specific users or specific materials.
Read more about custom software development – built for your collection!
Working Within Your Budget
Archival companies work with organizations that have a broad range of budgetary needs and considerations, including nonprofits, so the one you choose should understand the monetary considerations of archiving a large collection. Strong communication throughout the bid process is essential to make sure your exact budget needs are met. For example, the collection could be divided into sections so completed sections of the collection can be made available to users while another section is being digitized. In this example, project managers would work with you to determine an annual budget, prioritize your documents, and begin the digitization process for the first set. Once those are online and users are subscribing, you’ll have more resources for the next set of documents.
When digitizing your collection, remember that the cost is an investment in doing the project right the first time. Your archival company should balance budget requirements with providing a quality end product and thoroughly explore revenue-generating potential. Don’t sacrifice quality or your dream of a digital collection because of your budget.