Monetising Online Content: DLNETChat February 2021

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Sian Shaw

To quote ABBA “Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world” – and we can all agree that the heritage sector is not rich. So this month, we asked DLNET followers what they thought about monetising online content.

First things first, initial reactions from the community confirmed original suspicions: monetising online content isn’t a straightforward yes or no. 

The lack of a clear-cut answer led to some fascinating Twitter conversations. Here are three key takeaways when thinking about whether to monetise online content:

The “what” makes all the difference

It was quickly apparent that the “perhaps, but not always” response was more linked to the type of content than the organisation it was coming from. There seemed to be a distinction between the more passive, downloadable content and the more active, live experience, with the latter being seen as more likely to be monetised. Unusually, quantity was brought up as a reason for charging, such as for longer, curated learning experiences. As one contributor put it, this allows audiences to “get a better sense of what they’re getting for their money”. Interestingly, a lack of quantity was given as a reason not to charge. Repeatedly, it seemed to be a balancing act, in that if you are charging for some digital learning content, you should make sure that parts of your digital learning offer are free.

As always, audience matters 

It’s easy to think of digital learning as just for schools, but of course it spans all ages ranges who want to access formal or informal learning. The success of adult course and workshops in the last year was highlighted (with mentions of the V&A, Tate and Wallace Museum) as adults appear more eager to pay for a virtual experience, both buying tickets and in pay-what-you-can models. For schools, the ever-changing landscape of fully onsite, blended, and mainly offsite (aside from keyworkers’ children) cannot be ignored when considering appetite. As one contributor said, “Might it be that ‘online museum visits’ are just too much of a luxury right now?” While we know school budgets are tight, for many who may be doing this instead of a school trip, the appetite is growing. There are examples are success in the sector, such as the Jewish Museum London, leaders in the creation of Virtual Classrooms, sharing positive news.

Sector self-doubt still exists

Progress in digital learning across the sector in the last year is undeniable, but conversations remind us that moving forwards doesn’t mean we are completely ready for the shift.  Even if we feel more confident as a sector, we still seem to be doubting ourselves; whether that is not trusting the technology, concerned about how to trouble shoot when things go wrong or confidence in our ability to deliver virtually. All of which hold us back when considering adding a charge. For many organisations, digital learning has been reactionary rather than strategic, which means a lack of training and often the wrong kit. As one contributor shared, “We prioritise practice for technical confidence.” We have to ask, when digital learning is tackled in a more strategic way, will we feel more confident charging?

To sum up

Ultimately, monetising online content will only be successful if the market is willing to pay. The ability to access similar digital learning content or experiences for free was seen as the biggest barrier to generating revenue, but wasn’t deemed as the end of the conversation. When making a charge or no charge decision, two things stood out. Firstly, be consistent with your existing onsite offer – so if schools usually attend for free, the online “visit” should remain free. And secondly, communicate clearly why some things are free and some charged-for. As one contributor mentioned, “Paid-for content also supports organisations to keep offering free things”. We all know that’s not a new message for cultural audiences.

Further reading

https://www.culturehive.co.uk/resources/how-museums-can-generate-revenue-through-digital-content-and-virtual-experiences/

https://medium.com/frankly-green-webb/museums-making-money-from-online-content-might-our-beliefs-be-holding-us-back-486de5f50e86

Next #DLNET Chat

Join us on Twitter on Friday 5th March 1-2pm, where we are thinking about home learning.  Follow @DLNET and remember to use the hashtag #DLNETChat

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