Art-history scholars face narrowing publishing venues and rising permissions costs. But a report signals that help is on the way.
By JENNIFER HOWARD
If scholarly publishing had an endangered-species list, the art monograph would be at the top. At least that’s the perception of many art historians as they struggle to publish their work.
“Between dwindling sales and the soaring costs of acquiring illustrations and the permission to publish them, this segment of the publishing industry has become so severely compromised that the art monograph is now seriously endangered and could very well outpace the silvery minnow in its rush to extinction,” writes Susan M. Bielstein in a recent call to arms, ‘Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk About Art as Intellectual Property’, published this spring by the University of Chicago Press.
As the press’s executive editor for art and architecture, Ms. Bielstein writes from the barricades. She knows that publishing art monographs costs a pretty penny. Art historians need high-quality illustrations to support their arguments, but in most cases, they must shell out for reproducible images, even of works in the public domain. And they, not their publishers, foot those bills. “It’s not unusual for a scholar working on the Renaissance to pay $10,000 or $15,000 to illustrate a book that may sell only 400 or 500 copies,” she says in an interview. Contemporary subjects still under copyright, and subject to an artist’s or estate’s whims, can prove to be an even costlier proposition.
Reproducing those images is not cheap for presses, either. A typical art-history book sets a publisher back anywhere from $7,500 for a title with 30 illustrations to $75,000 for one with 150 images. At Yale University Press, the largest scholarly publisher of art titles, the “hard cost” of an art book — including paper, binding, and image reproduction — is $40,000 to $50,000 “at a bare minimum,” says Patricia Fidler, publisher for art and architecture there. “And that’s a pretty simple kind of book.”
“Not to put too fine a point on it,” Ms. Bielstein observes in her book, when it come to art-history publishing, “today’s picture is about as pretty as a Francis Bacon painting.”
Some presses have streamlined their art-history lists. […]
The article is discussing the findings of an report “Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age” by Ms. Westermann and Ms. Ballon.
But the most prominent recommendation in the draft report concerns permissions. All parties agree that it is harder than ever to navigate what Ms. Bielstein calls “the ecosystem of rights publishing.” What’s fair use? Should a museum be able to charge for a reproducible image of an out-of-copyright object in its collection? Most do. And as digital publication tempts more and more publishers and scholars, how will they protect images that appear in an electronic book or an electronic version of a journal article?
The report’s authors urge those in the field to “organize a campaign to break down barriers to access and distribution of images, in all media and at affordable prices, for scholarly research and publication.” (Ms. Bielstein’s book makes a similar exhortation.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken a revolutionary step toward that end with the “scholars’ license,” which it hopes to have in place by this fall. “We have responded to what scholars needed and wanted,” says Doralynn Pines, associate director for administration. “We are proposing, in certain areas, certainly for scholarly purposes, … that we permit people to use the images with no fee.” Under the old way of doing business, a one-time use of one transparency or digital image from the Met set a scholar back $135. […]
I reccommend also reading Ms. Bielstein’s article at
Hear Ms. Bielstein on a Fair Use Conference
See also the position of K. Hamma (Getty Foundation) at