National Gallery sells early-bird exhibition tickets

Rob Picheta, 17.01.2018
Move is part of a wider variable pricing experiment
The National Gallery has become the first large museum in London to offer cheaper ‘early-bird’ tickets for an exhibition, trialling the practice for its upcoming Monet show.

Capitalising on anticipated high demand, tickets for April’s Monet and Architecture exhibition have gone on sale at the special price of £17 for a limited time, after which prices will rise.

“There is a real moment of opportunity to renew the business models of museums,” Chris Michaels, the National Gallery’s digital director, said. “I think it’s alright for the objects to be old, but I’m not so sure our business practices should come from the 1960s and 1970s."

Michaels added that the exhibition, given the expected level of interest, “seemed like an obvious opportunity to trial a different model”.

He said: “What we really want to do is to find that audience for whom this is a kind of no-brainer exhibition. There hasn’t been a big Monet exhibition in London for just about 20 years now, and for a part of our audience this is an incredibly exciting and important thing.”

The last London exhibition dedicated to Monet, held by the Royal Academy in 1999, became the most popular ever exhibition at a British art gallery. It attracted more than 800,000 visitors and saw the museum stay open overnight during its final weekend to keep up with demand.

The practice of using early-bird pricing has been partially inspired by music festivals, which regularly use the system. Michaels said: “Clearly it’s not the first time this kind of thing has been done – for every music festival it's a very normal kind of practice, but we want to see what it means for us and for our business."

The early-bird period is expected to last for around a month, after which the gallery will use a tiered pricing model that takes into account variables including whether customers are visiting on weekdays or weekends, and whether they are buying tickets online or on the door.

Variable pricing has recently been explored by other galleries, with the Victoria and Albert Museum offering lower prices during the week for last year’s popular Pink Floyd exhibition.

But Michaels noted that this exhibition marks the most complex experimentation to date by a British gallery, saying: “We’re going to have to try those things out ourselves, and find out as we go along what the opportunity really looks like.”