Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many museums, galleries, cultural venues and sites had to explore ways of maintaining audience engagement online whilst physically closed to visitors. While this may have created a richness of visual media, generating income through means other than site visits, ticket sales and shop revenue can still prove difficult. The challenge is to find new ways to gain revenue from digital assets. Online content is therefore an important new area for museums and heritage sites to explore.
In this guide, our expert, Dr Stephen Dobson, University of Leeds, explores some possible new ways of using digital assets to generate income, in particular from:
- Artefact adoption
- Video sponsorship
- Image reproduction.
While the ‘adoption’ model has been used by zoos, wildlife parks and animal sanctuaries for many years, this is still relatively new to the heritage sector. Visitors are encouraged to ‘adopt’ an animal by paying a one-off fee, perhaps as a gift, or a monthly donation. In return, they receive regular updates about the animal. Digital assets such as photographs or video footage of the adopted animal may form a communications package as part of the adoption service.
Artefact adoption is much less common but could work well for special interest museums collections. Collections of engineering or military history may require a great deal of specialist knowledge and time for restoration and an adoption model may be a popular way of helping fund such work.
Many not-for-profit services rely on goodwill donations as an important funding stream. Even in the technology sector, open-source software is dependent upon donations from satisfied customers. Wikipedia and Linux are good examples of this.
In the heritage sector, the ‘pay-as-you-feel’ donation box is one of the oldest ways museums and sites gain income to support their upkeep. A virtual ‘pay-as-you-feel’ donation box on the website is a simple way of replicating this tried and tested model.
Sponsorship and monetisation of video content
In 2021, YouTube reached 2.5 billion active users per month, compared to 69 million in 2012 (Source: AppMagic). Hosting video content on the platform is not only a good way to engage new audiences creatively, it can also provide opportunities for securing sponsorships and monetising outputs.
Often this is dependent on viewing figures, so it’s important to produce content that viewers are interested in. Monetising your channel also involves meeting specific criteria for the YouTube Partner Program (TPP). For example, English Heritage has developed a number of series on YouTube, some of which, like their History Inspired Makeup Tutorials, have garnered over a million views.
Freemium is a two-tiered online system in which most content or access to a service is free but a ‘premium’ version of the service or additional elements has to be paid for. It is commonly used in software where the basic functionality is free but additional features are available by subscription. Many museums and art galleries offer ticketed access to special collections or events for members. This is essentially a ‘freemium’ business model.
In the online space, this may include special access to museum staff or perhaps special online access to archives or stored artefacts. In 2020, the Design Museum brought together curators, musicians and designers to develop an online show on the history of electronic music which was a ticketed event but free to members.
An increasingly popular way of making money from digital content is sales for reproduction purposes, usually via third-party platforms. These platforms promote images to an international audience and deal with copyright on behalf of the depositing organisation. There are a number of popular commercial services however one successful not-for-profit service is ArtUK.org.
ArtUK is a charity with images from over 3,400 British institutions. It allows contributing organisations to raise revenue through the sale of digital content. The online shop enables the customer to have an image reproduced as a poster or a framed print and can be a valuable source of revenue for heritage organisations willing to digitise their collections.
Now that you have explored some suggestions for how digital assets can be harnessed to generate income, consider whether any of the methods above could work for your organisation.
Begin by considering the following:
- What digital assets does your organisation already have? Could any of the suggestions apply to these assets?
- Are there assets you would be interested in developing? What are they? What resources and skills would be needed to create them?
- What will your next steps be in moving these ideas forward? Who do you need to speak to within your organisation and how will you proceed?
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Charitable giving Digital content Fundraising Monetising assets Online fundraising
Please attribute as: "Using digital assets to develop new revenue streams (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0