An Exhibition of Optimism
“Certainly they’re interested in hearing about efficiencies, but at the end of the day, they won’t sacrifice their standards,” Fidler says.
Take, for instance Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, the husband and wife team that handles publishing for New Orleans’ The Museum of the American Cocktail. They take advantage of printing technologies to run much smaller quantities than in the past, Brown notes, simply because print-on-demand allows them to run at a bare fraction of publishing’s old cost structure.
That’s not a realistic option, however, for Susan Rossen. As executive director of publications at the Art Institute of Chicago, she stands vigilant guard over color reproduction quality and claims print-on-demand hasn’t caught up yet. “But they will, and that will make a new economy,” she says.
Already, digitizing everything from photography to the printing process has been a positive experience, according to Rossen.
“We are getting better and better color as a result,” she says.
“Museums like ours still insist on high standards for reproductions,” Rossen adds. “The trade publishers do, too, but they’re under a mandate to make money, and we’re under a mandate not to lose money.”
Of course, business-driven decision making is in its infancy, and far easier said than done, professionals in this niche say. Behind closed doors, publishers still face an uphill battle convincing curators and authors to stay on the cost-saving deadlines they’ve set, and internal political egos mean they don’t always get the option to reject subpar manuscripts or nix 750 color separations in the finished piece.
In this respect, newer museums hold a competitive advantage because they aren’t as bound by the old pecking orders.
“I’ve seen museums where publications are on par with the curatorial staff, and the group decides whether to do an exhibit and a book,” Medlock says. Canadian museums have begun thinking even farther out of the box, hiring credentialed authors to handle particular titles.