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Derby Museums Trust recently considered introducing charges at one of its venues, before deciding instead to take a more assertive approach to asking for donations

Entry charges do not affect audience diversity, claims report

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 08.09.2016
AIM publishes research on the impact of admission charging
There is “no direct link” between admission charges and audience diversity, according to a report published today by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM).

Funded by Arts Council England and the Welsh government, the Taking Charge – Evaluating the Evidence report examines the results of a sector-wide survey conducted by the research consultancy DC Research earlier this year on the impact of admission charging on museums.

In total, the survey attracted 311 responses with almost 70% originating from the independent sector. Just over 18% came from local authority museums, 3% from university museums, and 8% from other types of museum. Among respondents, 57% had some kind of admission charge and 43% did not charge at all.

The report found that there was little difference in the social make-up of visitors to museums that charge and those that don’t. It said: “The research suggests that charging does not affect the social mix of visitors to museums. AIM Visitor Verdict shows there is very little difference between the proportions of different social grades of visitors to free admission sites and to paid admission sites.”
 
The report acknowledged that in both cases the audience profile was not representative of wider society, with an over-representation of visitors from upper socio-economic groups and an under-representation of those from lower socio-economic groups.
 
However, of the 17% of museums that had moved from charging to free entry, 68% of those respondents reported a “positive” or “very positive” impact on visitor mix, with a particular increase in local visitors.
 
The biggest impacts reported by museums in that category were an increase in visitor numbers, repeat visits and casual visits. Those museums also said that the increase in visitors had led to an increase in secondary spend.

The report also found that there was evidence that visitors to charging museums were more likely to spend money in onsite shops and cafes.

Among the 11% of museums that had moved from free entry to charging, the most common impact reported was a sometimes significant fall in visitor numbers, particularly local visitors. However 58% of those museums reported that the introduction of charges had had “no impact” on the mix and diversity of visitors.

The museums in that category also reported a positive impact on income, though they recorded a drop in spontaneous donations. The report found that secondary spend in those museums had not dropped after the introduction of charges, in spite of a fall in visitor numbers.

Positive impacts reported by the museums that charge admission included longer dwell times by visitors, and the fact that charging “creates a focus for the visitor welcome and captures information about visitors”.

In terms of overall impact, the report said that the “museums that have faced the greatest challenges are those that have moved from free to charging – with the perceptions and attitudes of visitors (notably local visitors) proving to be a notable challenge”.

The report concluded that there was “no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to considerations around charging”, with the impact of charging influenced by the wider context and the museum’s characteristics, collections, customer profile and organisational culture.

Alongside the report, AIM has released a guide to successfully setting admissions policy and pricing.

A full analysis of the AIM report will appear in the October issue of Museums Journal.