News: Final report on their Case Studies in Sustainability

News: Final report on their Case Studies in Sustainability

News: JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance and Ithaka S+R release final report on their Case Studies in Sustainability, revealing how different business models fared during the economic downturn


6 October New York, NY and London, UK–Ithaka S+R, with funding from the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance, released today “Revenue, Recession, Reliance: Revisiting the SCA/Ithaka S+R Case Studies in Sustainability,” a report that reviews the impact of tumultuous times on the business models of 12 digital projects first profiled by S+R in 2009.

Some of the projects profiled include the UK’s National Archives’ Licensed Internet Associates programme, which has shown major revenue growth in recent years despite budget cuts felt by the entire institution; Cornell University’s eBird, which has experimented with partnerships to develop new revenue generating offerings for users; and the University of Southampton’s Library Digitisation Unit, which has made strategic choices to better align its mission with that of the university.

Nearly all of the projects profiled live under the umbrella of larger institutions.  One of the key findings to emerge is that many of these projects are relying on their host institutions for support to an even greater extent than two years ago. Whether this is a good arrangement and what this means for their future remains to be seen.

“While some project leaders have pursued an aggressive awareness-building strategy within their host institutions as a way of ensuring ongoing support, others have preferred to fly under the radar,” commented co-author and Ithaka S+R program manager, Nancy Maron. “Either way, where host support is a major part of the sustainability plan, aligning project goals with the host’s mission is especially important.”

The report notes that difficult economic times have called for deep across-the-board spending cuts at many organizations, which can deny digital resource projects the capital investment they need just as they are beginning to grow. Many of the projects studied had the intention of contributing revenue to their host, but only some were successful in doing so, and even those were unable to fully support their ongoing costs.

“This research concentrates on organizations coming to terms with the long term liabilities incurred in digital projects and post grant funding,” stated Stuart Dempster, Director of the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance.  “It’s not just the actions the project teams have taken but the reasoning behind those choices that will help others start to determine which strategies, or parts of them, might serve as models for their own projects.”

The projects that had the most success did not follow one particular business model but rather spent a tremendous time understanding all of their stakeholders–from their users to university administrators and volunteers.

“There is no single path to sustainability,” stated Kevin Guthrie, president of ITHAKA. “Successful projects understand the value they offer to their most important constituents and are able to adjust their approaches to meet new challenges and changing conditions.”

The cases covered include scholar-led initiatives (Electronic Enlightenment, eBird, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, the National Science Digital Library MSP2: Middle School Math and Science Pathway, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae), library and museum projects (The National Archives, L’Institut national de l’audiovisuel, the University of Southampton Library Digitisation Unit, V&A Images), and publishing projects (Hindawi, DigiZeitschriften) with a diverse range of revenue models (e.g., subscription-based projects, endowment-funded resources, and open access digital libraries).

These case studies form part of a long term commitment by the Strategic Content Alliance to provide empirically-based evidence freely to education, research and cultural bodies in the development of digital content. This research is ongoing with the development of a new digital entrepreneurship syllabus due for delivery in summer 2012.


About Ithaka S+R
Ithaka S+R is a not-for-profit strategic consulting and research service that focuses on the transformation of scholarship and teaching in an online environment, with the goal of identifying the critical issues facing our community and acting as a catalyst for change.  Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that helps the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.
About the Strategic Content Alliance
The JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance is a unique collaboration initiative funded by public sector organisations, all different, but all deeply involved in the creation, management and exploitation of digital content for the common good. These are: JISC, British LibraryBBCMuseums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), and the Wellcome Library. The Alliance aims to maximise financial and intellectual investment in digital content through a more systematic approach to pooling and co-ordinating activity.

About JISC
JISC is the UK’s technology consortium for higher and further education–supporting UK research, teaching and learning to ensure it remains world class.