JISC10: Business models for sustaining digital resources

The past decade has witnessed a rush to create digital content in the not-for-profit sector but despite the great value of the content being entrusted to a digital format, the business models that will ensure long-term access to and preservation of this material are still unclear. In this session, Caroline Kimbell from the The National Archives and Roei Amit from Institut National de l’Audiovisual (INA), gave a detailed insight into how valuable national resources can be best made accessible and maintained.

Both speakers sold the benefits of presentation of material as a key to the success of the archives. Kimbell described how the National Archives website has evolved to become a user friendly platform that attracts repeat views.

The archive industry has seen massive growth through successful television shows that have attracted more people to explore their family history. This has led the National Archives to change its approach to make the search for people more direct. In the past the system has been convoluted as the National Archives has operated on a system of reference numbers while individuals want to search via names and places. The system now focuses on keywords in a user friendly format. It has also been able to open up to other media platforms allowing individuals to update information and photograph records to store on Flickr.

It has found that by providing better online information their offices are not flooded by walk-in individuals seeking information. It has allowed them to be innovative and opportunistic which in turn has led to private investment.

In France, the INA has worked on the archiving of television and radio and is exploring how to make these archives into a viable and successful business model. In 1999 it started the digitalisation of its archives, by 2015 it will be the first country to have saved 100% of their audiovisual memory, and this in turn has created business opportunities.

Once again the focus is to create user-friendly platforms that meet the demands of individuals. Amit pointed out the need for a balance between meeting public needs and experimenting with sustainability projects.

One area INA has exploited is using social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to generate new interest in old material. Taking this further, it allows other websites to take content and create a relevance to the subject matter and therefore maintain a demand for the services it offers. This has enabled INA to not only permit the free public streaming of television and radio shows but also to sell the physical product (DVDs, CDs) to generate income.

It operates a number of revenue models outside of selling physical products and these include education subscriptions for schools and colleges, website advertising and the development of mobile and television applications.

The message from all speakers is that evolution is at the core of archive projects so they can be available and sustainable. As the session chair, Nancy Maron, put it, “A revenue model should be thought of earlier on and not be tacked on to an existing business.” There is also a need to look beyond grants and treat the project as a business.