Media Files
Cost of Inaction Rationale
AVP Videos
Creator AVP
presenter Chris Lacinak
created 2014
legacy media
The Cost of Inaction (COI) Calculator is a new model and tool to help organizations make well-informed decisions regarding the digitization of legacy physical audiovisual media and to understand the implications of their choices. COI is a counter-perspective to the concept of "ROI", or Return on Investment, often raised with ill-effect when decision makers analyze digitization and preservation projects. To date there has been no consistent way for organizations to quantify the financial and intellectual cost of inaction in order to supplement traditional arguments and bridge the gaps between archivists and administrators. This video provides the rationale behind the cost of inaction concept and calculator found at

Primary English
created 2014
Creator AVP
presenter Chris Lacinak
Rights Statement:
CC BY 4.0

Preferred Citation:
Cost of Inaction Rationale, AVP, 2014.

No index available for this file.
SUBJECT: After looking at
the Cost of Inaction website
for a bit, you may
be asking yourself,
why exactly do I need this?
If you have audiovisual
regardless of whether you're a
formal archive, a corporation,
a production company, or any
other type of organization,
the Cost of Inaction
calculator can
help you perform analysis
and make informed decisions.
We'll get into the
details of that,
but first let's
start with the end.
The end of what?
Well, the end of physical
audiovisual media,
such as VHS, audio cassette,
open reel tapes, Betacam SP.
The end of these
things is something
that most organizations
with holdings of legacy AV
collections recognize
in some way,
but it's still a
general notion--
maybe something for the
next person to worry about.
But when you add
a reference point,
you put the end on the horizon.
It tends to get a
bit more attention.
There have been several
articles over recent years
from major news outlets
talking about the obsolescence
and degradation of
physical audiovisual media,
but still people
wax philosophical
and get into theoretical
about the relative
virtues of film over tape,
or grooved media
over optical disk,
or people put stock into
innovation or technical heroism
swooping in to save
us at the last minute.
In unfortunate circumstances
such as natural disasters,
we find that the threat of the
end is thrust upon us suddenly.
It's remarkable
the amazing stories
that come out of
disasters like this,
of people springing into action
and sparing no amount of effort
to save what are
recognized in these moments
as priceless cultural materials.
A particularly interesting
thing is the contrast
between the perspective that
is found at a moment like this
compared to the perspective on
the longer term disaster that
is playing out in front of us,
the longer term disaster being
degradation and obsolescence
of physical audiovisual media.
This quote is from
2006, and things
have changed in much more
dramatic ways than anticipated
at that point.
We would now say
within one generation,
and we would revise this to
say short term instead of mid
to long term.
And this is from the National
Recording Preservation
Plan that was years in the
making and published in 2013.
And while this gives an
optimistic 15 to 20-year
window, others like Richard
Wright are more pessimistic.
General consensus among experts
as of 2013 was 10 to 15 years.
Since it's 2014 now,
let's call it 14 years.
But saying 14 years is
tricky because people
have a way of continuing
to say 14 years even
after several years have passed.
So let's put a number to it.
Let's call it 2028.
But it's imperative that we
take the perspective found
at a moment like
this and we apply
it to this longer
timeline because there
are many organizations
that would spring
into action in the face
of a sudden disaster
but currently stand by without
acting while the longer term
disaster plays out
in front of us.
Imagine if all of your materials
were in a disaster today.
Stakeholders and caretakers
should ask themselves,
would I do everything I
could to save my collection?
Would I raise funds to
rescue the collection?
How much would I do
and spend before I
thought it was too much?
Would I be inspired or shamed
by the passion of others
to save my collection?
These questions are as
relevant to the longer timeline
as they are to being hit
with a sudden disaster.
We need to take the
response that arises out
of these moments and apply it to
the time between now and 2028,
because this is not a marathon
at this point for most
It is truly a sprint.
But it's also true that the task
at hand can be overwhelming,
and we can't take an
all or nothing approach.
This report from
the Blue Ribbon Task
Force on Sustainable Digital
Preservation and Access
is a really important
work that helps
us navigate these realities.
The report tells us that
a common and misleading
perception is that we either
do all or nothing, forever
or never.
Or one important thing
that the blue ribbon task
force report talks a lot
about is this concept
of maintaining the
option, that we
don't have to make a choice
to preserve something
forever or never.
Forever is not a concept that
anyone has an easy time with,
particularly not those charged
with budgeting and decision
Instead, we can
think about providing
the minimal amount necessary
to simply maintain the option.
And we can think in periods
of five or 10 years,
with each period
being an opportunity
to assess and decide whether
or not we want to do nothing,
do the minimal amount necessary
to maintain the option
to decide again
later, or to do much
more than the minimum
for the collection,
in part or in whole.
Under any circumstance,
it's imperative to avoid
the paralysis that
strikes when we
think about very large things
in black and white terms.
It's not all or nothing.
It's not forever and never.
However, what we do
require is immediacy
because we're up against a
wall between now and 2028.
We have to start
acting immediately.
Underlying all of
this is the issue
of prioritization, which
Indiana University talks
about in an articulate and
significant way in these two
Prioritization and the need
to make informed decisions
is a core tenet of values work.
This is a slide from Mike Casey,
director of media preservation
services at Indiana University,
giving a high-level overview
on their methodology
for prioritization
which has been incorporated into
applications called MediaSCORE
and MediaRIVERS.
But regardless, an effort
like this takes resources.
And a point where efforts to
preserve content and archives
often fall short is within
higher levels of organizations
where the topic that
always creeps in
is return on investment
and opportunities
for direct monetization.
Rightfully so, decision
makers want to know,
if we put funding
behind digitization,
can we recoup our
costs, or maybe
we can even make money
through monetization?
In fact, in most cases and
for a number of reasons,
using ROI as a metric and direct
monetization as a justification
fails to speak to the
benefits and value derived
from the effort, including
support of mission
and the effectiveness and
quality of serving clients.
Not only that, but
the real expense graph
doesn't look like this,
where expense begins at zero
before digitization begins.
It looks like this.
Notice that the line
doesn't start at zero,
and it doesn't ascend
and then descend.
The reality is that the
investment started years ago.
Investments in collections don't
start today with digitization,
and they don't go away
once digitization is done.
Collections have had investments
in staff, facilities,
management, administration,
moves, rehousing, consulting,
assessments, and in some cases
production and acquisition.
And as a principle of
archiving and preservation,
organizations will continue
to manage physical collections
after digitization is done.
So it's critical to recognize
the investment made to date
and the ongoing investment
made for physical collections
in addition to the cost
of digitization, storage,
and more.
Once we come to
this understanding,
the question of
return on investment
becomes less relevant,
and the question
about the cost of inaction
becomes much more relevant.
The COI calculator
helps organizations
analyze the financial and
intellectual cost of inaction.
The Cost of Inaction
calculator allows
you to create multiple
scenarios and to compare them.
For instance, moving
either the start date
for digitization or the
annual digitization budget
and being able to
assess the outcomes
for those different scenarios.
But COI is not an argument
to digitize everything.
It's a tool that
aims to enable action
by quantifying the issues in
both financial and intellectual
terms in order to
inform decision making.
It's also not about bringing a
robust preservation and access
infrastructure to bear for
everything that is prioritized.
As the Blue Ribbon Task
Force report emphasizes,
it's about
maintaining the option
to make a decision
in the future.
For instance, referencing the
National Digital Stewardship
Alliance levels of
digital preservation,
offering a level one environment
is much more obtainable
and it does maintain the
option to make decisions
about how to allocate resources
for preservation and access
Doing nothing, though,
leads to permanent loss,
and all options are taken away.
There is a cost of inaction.
Calculating that cost helps
approach conversations
and decision making in a
well-informed way and helps
understand the implications
of various scenarios.
So use the COI calculator
to analyze what the cost is
for your organization.
Enter in details
about your collections
and some other basic
planning information
and review the outcomes, export
the charts and the reporting,
and sign up for an account
to save multiple projects
and compare different scenarios.
And signing up for an
account also allows
you to share with others.
We hope that this
is explained why
the Cost of Inaction
calculator was created
and how it can help you in your
planning and decision making.
Find the calculator along
with helpful information
on how to use it at
We would love to
hear how you're using
it, as well as any other
feedback you may have.
Please reach out to us
And thanks.