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Cover image for Mini Report #1: Stating the Problem - MHz Curationist Sustainable Contributor Payment Study
Brandon J. Roy for MHz Curationist

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Mini Report #1: Stating the Problem - MHz Curationist Sustainable Contributor Payment Study

Sustainable Contributor Payment Study Goals:

Initially, we intended to use this report to explore how we could leverage micropayments as a method of monetizing our website without resorting to an advertising model. However, as we started to examine how we would do this, we came to the realization that our exploration of micropayments needed to be placed in a broader context of how we are looking at monetization as a whole. To step that back further, monetization itself is a piece of a larger effort we are focusing on as we determine the sustainability of our project.

Therefore, we decided to reframe our study, to take you on a journey highlighting all of our investigations, as we seek to find a pathway to sustainability. In it, we will explore different types of monetization, and one of those is indeed micropayments. We will arrive at pros and cons lists of various types of monetization methods, and conclude with a series of next steps, pointing our organization towards what we believe we can find as our paths to sustainability. The plural, paths, was chosen purposefully, as we do not believe that a single monetization method will allow us to sustainably continue our project. The ultimate goal of this study is to find the right hybrid model of various methods that will allow us to achieve sustainability.

Before we even get into detailing our organization, a mission-driven, not-for-profit arts and culture platform online, we need to describe what we mean by sustainability. Any organization has overhead it needs to cover in order to continue operating. A platform has staff, it has technical expenses, and it has at least some developmental costs on an ongoing basis. All of these incur costs.

Our platform also has teams of contributors. These contributors spend time and effort researching, writing, and designing editorial content for our platform, in the form of curated online exhibits. For us, a thorough study on sustainability must also include the sustainability of rewarding an expanding pool of independent global contributors for their labors. This is a very different type of sustainability study, with completely different variables than the ones associated with operations and infrastructure.

We therefore will be bifurcating our study into two sections, and exploring how we can use monetization models to achieve sustainability for each. These two sections will be as follows:

Sustainability of operations and infrastructure
Sustainability of payment of contributors

In order to find paths to sustainability for each sustainability goal, we will investigate a minimum of the following monetization methods:

Exploration A: Micropayments
Exploration B: Monetizing our data store
Exploration C: Monetizing services
Exploration D: Others from market research

NOTE: The design of the Mini Report structure will be to be able to report on each exploration, and what pros and cons we have determined, in an open and transparent manner, in hopes of garnering community feedback. Our final report will not simply be a compendium of our Mini Reports, but one that has edited each of those sections in response to Grant for the Web community feedback.

Who We are, What We Do, and Why We Exist:

Our open access publication, MHz Curationist, is an online space for collaboratively curating arts and cultural content, using Creative Commons legal tools. The MHz Curationist platform is intended to be clear, easy to use, and entertaining. It is a platform that is enriching, but not overly academic, as well as being fun and trustworthy. MHz Curationist is our way of giving back to the Commons.

The MHz Foundation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, has been participating in the global open access movement with Curationist.org since 2016. In the spring of 2019, MHz Curationist BETA was introduced to the world at the Creative Commons Global Summit, as a collaborative platform for people — wherever and whoever they are — to deepen their learning, and transform their understanding of arts and culture from around the world. Our motivation and inspiration continues.

For nearly three years, MHz Curationist has listened, discussed, and researched opportunities for the platform, with global Open-GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) communities. MHz Curationist is poised to become an important contributor, and next-generation platform and publisher of open access cultural content. Arriving at a mature moment for the global open access movement, MHz Curationist builds upon the collaborative work of individuals and institutions worldwide, who have contributed millions of data and digital assets to the global commons. MHz Curationist prioritizes content using Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC-BY) and the Creative Commons Zero Publication Domain Dedication (CC0), which enable maximum opportunities for use in commercial and non-commercial applications, while continuing to grow the commons for all.

What makes MHz Curationist unique is that it draws upon Creative Commons and public domain content shared by GLAM institutions through their open access programs, as well as third-party aggregators and community content hubs. The site is contributed to, and managed by, a collaborative team of freelancers enthusiastic about sharing arts and culture in dialogue with others.

MHz Curationist is an inspiring and welcoming place for co-collaborators, guest editors, and future users, to share viewpoints on arts and culture. MHz Curationist will offer new, compelling, and unique content, particularly through the publication of editorial features, collections, and new metadata that build upon content from open access source repositories. Editorial features will incorporate fresh voices and visions through collaborations with the open access community, content, and commercial partners. MHz Curationist's contributions of enhanced data and long-form text, will be one of our most significant contributions to the commons.

MHz Curationist is seeking partners who can contribute donations, sponsorship, in-kind technical support, along with a case study and demo development. MHz Curationist, working with partners, has the potential to capture international attention and interest for those seeking applications of openly licensed cultural content.

Our Definitions of Stability:

A: Operations and Infrastructure Stability

MHz Curationist was fortunate enough to be able to receive a three-year grant from the MHz Foundation, to cover initial development and three years of operating costs for the platform. However, the amount of money being provided by MHz Foundation is finite, and will run out in a couple of years. At that point, a technical platform will exist, and the costs of development will likely be lower than they are now, when we are actively paying teams of developers and designers to create and enhance a usable and user-friendly platform. There will, however, be ongoing costs that need to be covered or the site will simply cease to exist once the Foundation funds run out.

B: Payment of Contributors Stability

It is important to note that in our platform’s existing beta state, all site contributions are done by paid staff. The public tools we are in the process of building are simply not ready. Therefore, we have not yet needed to face the question of how to incentivize users to produce high-quality content on our platform. Right now they do it because they get paid for it (and hopefully have a great passion for it too). This hourly payment rate is certainly not sustainable at scale. There are many ways that platforms choose to incentivize their users’ production of content. Some choose not to monetarily incentivize users, and to find non-monetary methods. We know that for our site to reach a level of content production that will make it viable, this issue needs to be addressed clearly and carefully, and with the utmost respect for those dedicating their time and talents.

NEXT STEPS:

Before delving into each monetization study, and how we can apply it to both of our stability paths, we will start with another Mini Report to produce a survey of others within the GLAM and open knowledge platform spaces, particularly those with non-profit designations, to determine how they have tackled sustainability in both categories. Our hope is that we can learn lessons that can be incorporated into our planned studies, and perhaps even add a new topic or two for consideration.

Discussion (2)

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cjdawson profile image
Christian Dawson

FYI, we are well underway of our Mini Report #2, which does market research on how others have addressed sustainability in our space along the lines we're investigating. I'm happy to announce that the organizations we will be focusing on are as follows:

Free Music Archive
Internet Archive
Khan Academy
openDemocacy
Smarthistory
WikiArt
Wikimedia Foundation

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Christian Dawson

Eager for any thoughts or feedback from the group on this starting point, as we move on to Mini Report 2, where we are investigating how others handle monetization!