An Exhibition of Optimism
“It’s a credibility issue, and museums see the value of that, “ says Fidler. “It seems to be a better business decision to have one publisher representing them to the world.” While she’s open to partnering on specific projects with groups outside this circle, “we expect them to demonstrate to us the book’s scholarship and that there needs to be more on this topic,” she adds. In others words, museums need to sell it to her.
The Internet Impact
But Yale and its competitors could soon face stiff competition from the Internet. Jared Brown views the Web as the solution to breaking through geographic restrictions to reach people based purely on interest. Almost 40 percent of the folks who bought his last book were British, he says. And approximately 95 percent of The Museum of the American Cocktail’s book sales stem from its Internet site.
Traffic and sales are up at the Yale University Press shopping portal as well, despite the fact that it charges full retail price, and Amazon.com often carries the same titles for less. (Note that those discounts come out of the retailer’s pocket—Yale earns the same profit margin either way.)
Ann Karlstrom, director of publications and graphic design at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, says she has noticed a spike in online sales near the end of an exhibition, despite the museum’s limited online presence. She lacks the staff to keep the Web site dynamic, and the list of available publications is not up to date. She chalks up the sales to the fact folks figure they’re running out of time to commit to the book they flipped through during their visit to the museum shop.
Yet what fires Miller’s excitement is the fact the Internet offers a medium that ensures museum publishing doesn’t itself become historic.