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Cover image for Mini-Report #4: Monetization Study Conclusions for Curationist.org #ExpandingCulturesTogether
MHz Curationist

Mini-Report #4: Monetization Study Conclusions for Curationist.org #ExpandingCulturesTogether

Brandon J. Roy
Community Lead at MHz Curationist www.curationist.org #ExpandingCulturesTogether
Updated on ・11 min read

- SECTION A -

We have investigated five monetization strategies in a search for the best way to financially sustain MHz Curationist on an ongoing basis. The five monetization strategies that we have investigated are: micropayments, corporate sponsorships through advertising, corporate sponsorships through the monetization of our GLAM data store, grants, and services. Specifically, we have studied the best way to underwrite the costs associated with operations and infrastructure and payment to content contributors.

Monetization Strategy

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

Micropayments

  • To Fund Operations: Negative/none observed
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Seldom used (1 of 6 organizations studied)

Conclusion: None of the organizations in our study fund their operations through micropayments alone. We believe it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content, while building in a modest processing fee into each payment to sustain the fees associated with offering the micropayment model. Therefore, while we do not see micropayments as a way to fund operations, we do see a way to make micropayments self-sustaining, such that they do not add cost to operations and infrastructure.

Corporate Sponsorships: Advertising

  • To Fund Operations: Negative/none observed
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion: The financial data that we reviewed did not yield any insights into whether an organization was receiving funding from corporate sponsors or not. Curationist is in the development stage in its life cycle, thus its website traffic volume is not yet enough to attract a corporate sponsor. This is not a short-term source of funding for operations nor content contributors.

Corporate Sponsorships: GLAM Data Store

  • To Fund Operations: N/A
  • To Fund Content Contributors: N/A

Conclusion: The financial data that we reviewed did not yield any insights into whether an organization was receiving funding from corporate sponsors or not. Curationist is in the development stage in its life cycle, thus its website traffic volume is not yet enough to attract a corporate sponsor. This is not a short-term source of funding for operations nor content contributors.

Grants

  • To Fund Operations: In use/viable (5 of 6 organizations studied)
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion: Grant funding was proven to be a cornerstone means of funding like-kind organizations. Curationist is providing an open educational resource (OER) that is freely available globally. The right grantor will help us fund operations, so that we are able to bring what we are building to a larger audience. It is unlikely to find a grant that would help subsidize content creation.

Services

  • To Fund Operations: In use/viable (3 of 6 organizations studied)
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion: Half of the like-kind organizations that we studied derived revenue from pay-for-service offerings. We foresee providing both docent and technical support services (custom API integrations), with all fees collected covering the cost of providing those services, plus a modest profit to contribute toward the cost of general operations.

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In summary, of the five monetization strategies, one (micropayments) is worthy of further investigation as a means of incentivizing content creators and three (corporate sponsors for GLAM data store, grants, and services) are worthy of further investigation as a means of funding ongoing operations.

Next, we will offer our recommendations for which model(s) we intend to pursue, how we will prioritize our work, and a timeline for our investigation.

- SECTION B -

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund content creation is as follows:

Micropayments

When we launch Curationist.org (v 2.0) in 2022, the platform will have a headless CMS in the background. Accordingly, curators of our works will be able to go into the back end of our system to access the data store of CC0 and CC-BY GLAM content that we have pulled from disparate sources and normalized. From there, they can craft rich stories about the objects.

A successful platform is one that incentivizes curators to visit frequently to share their stories. Building a micropayment system into the footer of each curated collection is one way for us to invite content consumers to financially reward content curators quickly and easily for the creation of that content. The invitation will include a message to this effect: “The work that is presented here was contributed by a volunteer. If you find value in this information, we invite you to say ‘thank you’ to this contributor through a micropayment of X (e.g., $1 USD).” This message will be accompanied visually by a button the user may click to take action.

As we explain later in this report, we will start our exploration of micropayments through user testing with our curators. Specifically, we will explore curators’ interest in receiving micropayments and will speak with them about various micropayment scenarios. We plan to build this user testing and dialogue around the use of COIL technology because, at this stage, we think COIL is the micropayment processing technology that we will want to use. As such, we will build user scenarios around the use of COIL during this “proof of concept” tech phase.

One of the challenges of building an effective user experience around micropayments is that curators’ acceptance of micropayments will be optional, not mandatory. While some of our curators are independent (i.e., individuals speaking on their own behalf), others are institutional - i.e., curators speaking on behalf of their GLAM institution. Both types of curators (independent and institutional) should be able to opt-into or out-of the micropayment system.

Lastly, we want to point out that in addition to incentivising the creation of curated collections (as described above), we are also trying to find ways to incentivize metadata work, which is where people augment the metadata that exists for a digital object with additional information.
While there is a longer-term potential of finding ways to build micropayment monetization pathways into the creation of metadata, it will not be our first exploration. Rather, we will start our field testing of micropayments at the curated collections level to see whether there is acceptance of this type of monetization strategy. We will begin that process with some user testing to engage curators around various micropayment engagement scenarios and different UI options, and we will learn what we can from that user testing to get a final spec for micropayments onto our roadmap. We will use this user testing phase to also field test curator tolerances for our intended content policy, content moderation system, and editorial standards. Later, we will consider whether micropayments is also a strategy that we want to explore at the metadata creation level, by following a similar test-driven development process.

We believe it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content, while building in an overrun (e.g., a small administrative fee) on each payment to cover the cost of administering the system. This is the only monetization strategy that we are pursuing at this time to fund content contributors, starting with user testing in an attempt to bring us to enough technical clarity to get it onto our development roadmap. Therefore, while we do not see micropayments as a way to fund operations, we do see a way to make micropayments self-sustaining, such that they do not add cost to operations and infrastructure.

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund operations is as follows:

Corporate sponsorships

We strongly believe that we can bring great value to the world through the creation of a data store of GLAM content in CC0 and CC-BY format with normalized metadata and taxonomy. While it can be used successfully within our own platform, the highest and best use of our platform may be as a demonstration of an advertisement for the usefulness of this centralized data store. In fact, as this central source of GLAM content grows, it will become a significant and growing contribution to the free-knowledge movement.

Corporations have historically found value in sponsoring the expansion of content in the free-knowledge field when doing so allows them to leverage that content in order to advance their corporate goals. Because we only offer CC0 and CC-BY creative commons content, and because we plan on being thoughtful about how we approach issues such as indigienous data sovereignty, we believe corporations will find value in a data store like ours existing that is designed to be cleaner from a data hygiene perspective than an environment like Flickr Commons.

We are in the process of generating a list of major corporate sponsors who we believe will find great value in the type of data store that we are seeking to build particularly when it comes to content that is not already easily accessible online. When they see and understand the value proposition, they will want to fund the development of this work. One of many examples of the types of organizations who could find great value in this includes Automattic, the creator of Wordpress. Specifically, Automattic could take free GLAM content that is smartly and meticulously tagged and deploy this content for use in the public blogs created by their users. Additionally, Google has leveraged Wikipedia data in their search algorithms.

We see this as a sequential process: first, we will normalize the way that the content that already exists is able to be accessed from a metadata and taxonomy standpoint. Initially, the data store will leverage the work of large institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian. We believe that completing this first step will make it easier for smaller, traditionally underrepresented GLAM institutions in the Global South to participate by providing them with a ubiquitous template. Eventually, we will also try to raise capital for those institutions to further assist their efforts. Involvement from these lesser-known institutions will allow us to achieve our ultimate goal of raising underrepresented voices by bringing their content and stories to light in a way that can be easily shared.

Corporate sponsorship development is needed in two areas: technical development and community outreach.

First, we must complete the technical component of the development of the data store. While the taxonomy and metadata work has completed its structural development, technological ground work is still underway (such as ensuring that the centralized data store is complete and content from multiple API streams has been normalized) and will require the support of corporate sponsors to finish.

Second, we will need assistance with outreach efforts to targeted communities in underrepresented regions to communicate the benefits of and encourage their participation in the data store, and eventually additional pools funding that could go directly to those communities to assist them with the digitization of their collections.

Grants

Grants have been a source of MHz Curationist’s funding from the outset. We are continually seeking additional grant funding in order to service different aspects of what we’re building; we do not anticipate changing this approach to funding.

We will continue to pursue grants that will enable our data store to be fully built, our taxonomy and metadata work to be complete, and our platform to be up and running. However, even with the completion of this work behind us, we will still be uncomfortably positioned as too much of an island in the work that needs to be done on the GLAM content that we wish to enrich with metadata and curation work. The more we can make our systems interoperable with the systems of other organizations across the internet, the more a community can develop that allows for that content to be used beyond our own platform.

Therefore, while we continue to seek grant funding for platform development and data store development, upon launch, we will begin prioritizing community collaboration grants that focus on interoperability between our community and other communities focused on similar work.

An example of this is the work of the Wikimedia Project’s work on Wikidata. The more interoperability we can enable between our work and theirs, the more we can ensure that our important work won’t be siloed and can be used by all, wherever that work is most useful across the web.

One further way that we can ensure that our work is not siloed on our own platform is by collaborating with the world’s colleges and universities on OER. We envision these collaborations leveraging our platform or data store to teach and will thus pursue grants to further this opportunity.

Services

We plan to actively market two different types of services that would enable customized interactions with our platform and/or data store. Those two service types are docent services and tech support services.

Docent Services

Collaborations with colleges and universities will stimulate the development of Curationist as an OER. Moreover, our curators will develop a tremendous amount of content that will be very useful to educators worldwide. Just as an in-person museum may hire a docent to walk them through a museum, we can offer virtual docents that will walk visitors through content that exists on our platforms to teach them about the world through the eyes of our curators. Whenever possible, a) the docent services will be provided by content creators themselves, and b) those docents will talk about cultural content that is from their own culture.

The majority of funds for these docent services would be distributed to the people who have generated the compelling content, with a certain small percentage handed back to the institution for operational overhead. As our OER plan develops and expands, a “Head of Docent Services” role will need to be developed to allow this system to be architected and implemented.

Technical Support Services

We want to enable the GLAM institutions of the world to leverage our data store free of charge. Meanwhile, we will offer paid services to institutions that need hand holding in that process or who need custom work done to ensure that integrations work. This will be true for both ingress and egress services - meaning that if there are institutions that wish to leverage the content within our data store, we will offer services, as well as services to GLAM institutions that wish to contribute to our data store. Because we are interested in the latter, and it is beneficial to us, we will attempt to seek grant funding to facilitate a pool of resources that will allow us to provide free services as possible to GLAM institutions interested in plugging into our system who cannot afford the technical support services necessary to do so.

Ultimately, we are hopeful that once our baseline set of API calls, taxonomies, and structures are in place, most organizations can interact with our data store and technology structure in a self-serve way. For those who can’t, we will have fair and reasonable prices to guide them in that process. As with previous services, most of the funds associated with billables in that area will go directly to fund the technologists with a small percentage overrun for administrative overhead.

Timeline

CURRENTLY (as of publication date):

As of the publication date of this post, we’re in beta.
While we’re in beta and gearing up for a new beta release in early 2022 prior to a full launch later in 2022, we are actively pursuing corporate sponsorships with a specific focus on sponsorships for technical development.
Also while we’re in beta, we are seeking grant funding for platform development and data store development.
Secure board approval of the creation of an advisory group of GLAM representatives to inform and guide our work.

END OF 2021/BEGINNING OF 2022:

  • Launch new site
  • Technical support services will be online and ready for use Pursue corporate sponsorships for community outreach
  • OER plan will be complete
  • Launch GLAM advisory group (2022)

6-12 MONTHS POST-LAUNCH:

  • Pursue educational institutions/collaboration grants (i.e., once they have a platform to collaborate on)
  • Docent services will launch
  • We will initiate the tech development cycle to integrate micropayments into our site
  • Maintain close contact with the advisory group to address specific needs

Conclusion

As you can see in this report, we plan to pursue four types of monetization strategies: micropayments, grant funding, corporate sponsorships, and services. We have a plan for which type of funding to pursue first (corporate sponsorships for technical development alongside grant funding for platform development), mid-term (technical support services and corporate sponsorships for community outreach), and six to twelve months post-launch (institutional collaboration grants, docent services, and micropayments). We are actively pursuing corporate sponsorships for technical development and grant funding for platform development at this time.

Discussion (1)

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cjdawson profile image
Christian Dawson

Hi there! This is our final mini-report before we submit our final report soon. We'd love any thoughts or feedback if anybody has any ideas they'd like to share!