For many museums and cultural institutions, the digital environment provides an exciting opportunity to expand access to their collections and enhance their brand. At the same time, the high costs of creating and maintaining digital collections lead some organizations to think about ways to generate revenue from these assets. V&A Images, a department of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s commercial trading company, licenses photographs of objects in the museum’s collection for commercial, educational and personal use. The unit is tasked with the sometimes-competing goals of generating profits for the museum, while also encouraging access to the collections and fostering scholarship in the field of art and design. Its challenges are to compete successfully in a crowded commercial licensing marketplace, to cover costs and to balance revenue generating imperatives with the museum’s other digitization efforts. This case study focuses specifically on V&A Images, while contextualizing its activities within the museum’s broader digitization programs. It highlights some of the factors that are important to the success of an image licensing operation, and discusses challenges related to balancing market imperatives and mission based goals.


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