Commercial partnerships and the risk of "pauperisation"
An argument could be, that the "valorisation" of cultural heritage resources should be
mainly done by private enterprises in partnership with the institutions that hold the cultural
heritage collections.Yet, in order for such a strategy to be feasible, it would imply, generally,
to accept that only a small, high-valued segment of cultural heritage is selected on pure
market considerations (e.g. digital image banks of first-rate art collections).
Furthermore, if a joint venture is not about some objects but on collection level, experts
estimate that there is little prospect for the institution to cover its costs from the share of
licensing fees it would get. As Erland Kolding Nielsen, Director, Royal Library, Copen-
hagen, describes it:"If you should go into a commercial venture with the purpose of
exploiting the collections with commercial firms then the library must have its start costs, its
technical costs and an overhead because otherwise there is no incentive and no gain for the
library to do that. (...) We have often been asked whether we could not do that and earn
parts of our operational costs, but unless you get an overhead of at least 100 % you will not
be able to achieve what the politicians or the system expects ... It is not valid just to recover
the marginal costs.The costs you had on this part you have to earn at least 100% and more.
That is also how the private sector reckons or tries to get their investment back."
(DigiCULT Interview, June 28, 2001)
Added to this must be that such ventures, besides most probably not leading to a signi-
ficant revenue and cost recovery, would mean a re-prioritisation of personnel and other
resources that are taken away from mission-related user services.
Valorisation of cultural heritage resources based on selecting only the commercially most
relevant fractions of collections as well as commercial partnerships based on the requirement
that institutions cover all costs of bringing their resources into the market are highly
questionable. Referring to a commercially driven selection of what are valuable resources to
digitise, Bruno Mannoni, Head of the Computing Department in the French Ministry of
Culture, Paris, has stated,"there is a major risk of impoverishment in doing so. If we deal
with cultural heritage as a market driven product, what will be the interest of a private
entity in digitising little-known, unpopular or difficult to comprehend works of art?"
Therefore, a risk of "pauperisation" exists and a need for state intervention or
counterbalancing in the cultural field is necessary. On the global level there is the well-
known example of France having raised the "cultural exception" issue during General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs discussions, as well as it has quota on TV transmission and
radio programs. (Mannoni, 1996)
It will be a major political task to set measures that counterbalance pure market-driven
exploitation, that ignores all that cannot easily be brought into commercial markets, which
in the information society of course increasingly means online markets.Yet, it needs to be
added, that there might of course be cases where it is very reasonable to foster public-
private venture, e.g. if an enterprise takes the risk to cost-intensively digitise and make
accessible archival material and can expect to be able to recover the costs on a moderate
costing scheme (an example for this is the 1901 Census Project of the UK Public Records