A collection catalog of British paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art slated to be printed by the Yale University Press Monday, might be one of the last of its kind.
Though the partnership between the University’s publishing house and The Met has withstood the economic downturn, with the press serving as sole distributor of all the Met’s books since 2000, glossy, print museum catalogues may have met their match in the digital revolution.
Gwen Roginsky, the general manager of publications at the Met, said the museum is considering a move to digitize its collections to enhance access and usability, rather than print collection catalogs. Though the economic implications of this move for the Yale Press are unclear, Donatich said other products of the partnership — especially exhibition catalogs that document temporary displays rather than the permanent collections — are flourishing.
Yale University Press Director John Donatich said while online collection catalogs would be useful and more current, the “artful” nature of a book is hard to replicate.
“Having an online digital archive of these exhibition holdings [would be] a fabulous thing for research and scholarship,” Donatich said. “But it’s still going to take a certain intelligence to put it together with a thesis and orchestrate an argument. And that’s what books do.”
But luckily for the press, catalog collections make up only a small fraction of all art books published. Roginsky said other types of art books distributed by the Yale Press are here to stay.
“It’s a luxury, but it’s a luxury that people want,” Roginsky said.
Despite the recession and the push toward digitization, art books have fared fairly well recently, she added. Both Roginsky and Donatich said because art books attract a niche readership, they have managed to weather the recession without making major cuts.
Major cuts for art books mean chopping only a few thousand copies, Donatich explained. The best-selling books from the Met collection sell in the five digits, and some have an initial run of only 500 copies, said Patricia Fidler, art and architecture publisher at the Yale Press. These highly specialized books are directed toward academics, whom the press notifies when it publishes a book relevant to their area of interest.
For many art books the Yale Press prints, particularly exhibition catalogs, there is a sense of timeliness and relevance that makes people more inclined to purchase, Donatich explained.
“People like to have the in-depth narrative of an exhibit they go see and the book serves that purpose wonderfully,” Donatich said, adding that exhibition catalogs are typically the best-selling art books. “It’s a deepening experience for some people, and a souvenir for other people.”
The press maintains partnerships with 19 other museums nationwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. Each year, between 20 and 25 titles from the Met run through press offices in New Haven and London to consumers across the globe.