August 13, 2020
As some museums are either considering or planning to reopen their doors, there is some discussion about charging admission to visit both virtually and in-person. The pandemic has caused numerous financial hardships for many people, museums, nonprofits, theaters, stores, et. cetera. Museums charging admission is not a new topic in the field, but it has especially been relevant within the last months as museums consider re-opening their doors. In order to figure out how to keep museums running financially, museum professionals have been talking about whether or not to charge admission for some virtual experiences.
A conclusive answer for all museums would be hard to reach since each museum have their own budgets and their own limitations, and the pandemic created even more limitations for museums. In the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago What We Can Do About Admission Fees to Our Museums? I pointed out that
Many museums have different admission policies based on their operation budgets and funding they may or may not receive from donors and sometimes the government. The decision on what the admission prices to museums is not an easy one to make. Many museum professionals and visitors debate over what would be an appropriate amount to pay admission to museums.
With the pandemic continuing to financially effect museums among other recreational, educational, and businesses, the previous statement I made in that post is still true now but with more things to consider. It is not only museums, schools, businesses, et. cetera that are struggling but families and individuals are also struggling, and for many spending money on trips to museums (that have re-opened their physical sites to certain extents) is not a priority.
Museums are considering varying options to address the admissions issue. The Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York, for instance, decided on suggested donations for their virtual events. One museum in Germany decided to do an experiment with a different way of charging admissions. In the post shared on the American Alliance of Museums website, they shared information from the experiment by the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art in Bremen, Germany when they decided to change their admission policy to a “pay as you stay” model; there were two test phases that occurred in December 2019 and March 2020 when visitors paid one Euro per ten minutes, and in their results they revealed that while changing the admission to exist prices was a challenge the efforts had exceeded their expectations. Some of their findings include
The results of our experiment show that this pricing approach, which so far only existed in theory, not only worked in museum practice, but produced positive results. We must, of course, gather more data to understand the effects better, and it is in no way obvious that the system would work in other museums. It is also unclear what the effects would be in the long run. Available studies suggest that prices are rarely the decisive factor in the decision about whether or not to visit the arts, at least in Europe. We must also assume that the promotional effects wear off over time. But even if it is only a minor contribution – if a novel pricing model such as this can support our mission to be accessible, visitor oriented and open to new audiences, we should not leave this stone unturned.
When I read the article, I thought that “pay as you stay” model is an interesting option that museum professionals should examine to see if it would work for their museums. Since the United States especially has many museums of varying types, sizes (physical and budget), et. cetera, one model would not work for all of them. Colleen Dilenschneider released some information on her study on admissions to cultural institutions in the post Still Worth It? Admission Cost During the Pandemic for Cultural Entities (DATA). In the post, Dilenschneider pointed out a few things, including but not limited to, that people believe cultural entities are not less worthy of admission costs and that leaders should take a thoughtful approach to the decisions that need to be made about admissions rather than a reactive action. She also described value-for-cost perceptions which is a metric to help professionals understand how much perceptual value derived from an experience relative to its admission price unique to their institutions. For instance, the data informs three conditions as perceptions are being examined keeping data factors in mind:
Value of 100 = Optimally priced. This is the goal! This value means that the organization is priced and perceived such that the cost is not a significant barrier to engagement… while also not leaving money on the table!
Value less than 100 = Value disadvantaged. The lower the value, the proportionately greater the potential barrier to attendance the price point poses. For some organizations, this also represents an opportunity to improve the experience so it’s perceived as more worthy of one’s time and money.
Value greater than 100 = Value advantaged. The higher the value, the more money the organization proportionately risks “leaving on the table.” People would pay more for this experience without it jeopardizing attendance numbers.
In the end, the decision to charge admission is what all museums face but factors such as budgets and funding influences their decision to charge or not charge admission.
I recommend taking a closer look at the resources I mentioned in the list below.
What are your views on admissions to museums, cultural institutions, et. cetera during this pandemic (either virtually, in-person, or a hybrid)?
“Pay As You Stay” – an alternative pricing model for museums?
What Can We Do About Admission Fees to Our Museums?
Three Village Historical Society
Still Worth It? Admission Cost During the Pandemic for Cultural Entities (DATA)
How Museums Can Generate Revenue Through Digital Content and Virtual Experiences