An Exhibition of Optimism
“Just because someone is a really good researcher doesn’t mean he is an engaging writer, and that can drag down readership,” she says.
Many newer museums also appear to have greater freedom to pen timely, trendy pieces that engage the public. Brown and Miller, for example, arrived at The Museum of the American Cocktail with a string of consumer titles, including “Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini,” “Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail,” and magazine articles in Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado, under their belts alongside Random House Inc. credentials. As a result, the duo is crafting a philosophy that reaches more of the reading public.
“Yes, there will be people who discuss the finite measures of making drinks in 1887, but we also have to counterbalance that with some 31-year-old guy and his insights on creating an entire beverage program for a cruise line,” she says. “You have to be broad-minded about who really needs the education and in what form. Sometimes there is a desire to become academic without becoming fruitfully educative, and that’s a problem with me.”
In this decade, Rossen has noticed an evolving relationship with the gift shop crew at the Art Institute.
“In the old days, we would give them what we thought should sell,” she says. Now that model has all but flipped. The store buys the exhibition catalogs outright from her department, but sells scholarly publications on a consignment basis.
Medlock sees this situation cropping up often across the country: If the museum store manager can come up with convincing evidence books don’t sell as well as other merchandise, back to the storage room they go.
That’s undoubtedly a driving force behind the increasing stream of requests Fidler fields from museums looking to strike deals with Yale University Press, which maintains 13 exclusive partnerships with institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Paul Mellon Centre, the Jewish Museum, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. Lured by the sweet thought of more sales channels, including bookstores that still buy personally from house representatives, Amazon.com and large Web sites, Yale and other distributed art publishers have become the Holy Grail for museum publishing divisions.