One of the most frequently asked questions about an online scholarly catalogue is “What does it cost?”. It is a difficult question to answer. The OSCI projects were diverse by design, and the costs to produce them varied widely depending on the size and content of the collection, the ambition of the project, and the systems already in place. Some of the participating partners needed additional staffing, others had sufficient in-house capacity. Some OSCI projects required large technology investments, others did not. To complicate matters further, each museum calculates their costs differently. In short, there is no clear-cut answer.
Getty Foundation grants for the planning phase of the OSCI projects ranged from $140,700 to $240,000. Some of these grants included support for curator research and conservation documentation, which are common to both print and online publication. Subsequent implementation grants ranged from $197,000 to $495,000. Grants never covered the entire cost of each project, and participating museums reported that their contributions ranged from $123,000 to over $590,000.
Costs for printed museum collection catalogues can range from $100,000 to $250,000 (typically without scholarly research and writing factored in), for average print runs of 500 to 3,000 copies. Sales income can offset some of the costs of development and production, though most publishers note that there is a shrinking market for these catalogues due to reduced library sales and other factors.
At this point, it is difficult to predict with certainty whether a museum’s initial investment in online publishing will pay off. However, early results from the OSCI partners who have published or will soon release additional catalogues suggest that costs can be significantly reduced for subsequent volumes, by as much as 50% or more.