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.

Comments

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Guillaume Evrard
Web content editor, The University of Edinburgh
12.09.2016, 12:48
The headline of this article - and presumably the headline of the report - is no news, is it?
Free entry has been introduced almost 20 years ago (?).
The fact that free entry does not affect audience diversity has been known for at least 10 years.
The frontier is still located around the change of cultural "habitus" in audiences that audience diversity requires.
And that's even harder to achieve than free entry, as every museum professional will know too.
Martin Payne
Education Manager , Bletchley Park
09.09.2016, 10:30
Forgive me for I have not read the full report yet but was wondering if there was any difference between overall income from those that charged a set entrance price compared to money received through spontaneous donation in free to enter museums?
I understand it is much more complex with secondary spend and other forms of income but it would be an interesting point to discuss when looking at the mindset of those visitors and whether a free visit leads to a fair donation or no donation at all or whether a purchased ticket has more overall value for the visitor.
Lastly, how does this then reflect on the actual visitor experience or perceived experience of that visitor having paid or not paid.
Jonathan Durnin
Director, DC Research Ltd
09.09.2016, 14:57
Martin,
The report does consider each of the points you raise – and as you say, it is complex when considering all of the various aspects of income.
As well as a summary in the Success Guide of the key impacts of moving from free to charging/charging to free including the impact on donations and secondary spend (see http://bit.ly/2cEityg pages 7-14), the full report outlines this in more detail (http://bit.ly/2bXBlWS Section 3 pages 19-26).

In brief, some of the key findings related to your questions are:
* There are potential positive impacts on donations when moving from charging to free, but the evidence emphasises the importance of developing and implementing a pro-active donations strategy in order to achieve this, and being pro-active and well prepared generally to be able to realise other potential income generation opportunities.
* The quality of the offer in terms of retail and catering is a more important aspect than whether a museum charges or not in terms of the level of secondary spend achieved.
Martin Payne
Education Manager , Bletchley Park
09.09.2016, 15:45
Thanks for your reply Jonathan,

I've started to read the report in my lunch break earlier but will skip ahead to those relevant sections you've highlighted when I get chance.

The quality of the offer vs perceived value for money is an interesting area which I believe the report shows [at first glance] that those paying generally not only spent longer time-wise in the museums but spent more financially in retail and catering and also had an increased sense of quality or worth from their experience.

Whilst I can see and understand why this is (Visitors wanting to have maximum value from their time-limited ticket cost) I would have half anticipated that the overall spend would have been higher from those that had had free entry.
Perhaps the mindset of those visitors is to have a low-cost day out meaning that they are consciously spending the least possible compared to those who are consciously biased the opposite way to have a day out and spend money and once one transaction has taken place I imagine it is easier to carry out a second and third (retail and catering) etc

This is why the mindset of those visitors is so fascinating to understand as I feel it could unlock other potential opportunities for both sets of visitors.