KDCS Digital Consultancy

King's Digital Consultancy Services

Charging Models & Rights Strategy for Images in Museums and beyond

A Mellon Foundation funded study: Reproduction charging models & rights strategy for digital images in American art museums

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made a grant to KDCS for a study of USA art museum policy and practice regarding the market for digital resources.
One hundred US art museums were surveyed and in-depth interviews were carried out with 20 museums.
Any enquiries about this project should be directed to Simon Tanner at KDCS.

The Full Report is available here.

Executive Summary

This study explores the cost and policy models adapted by US arts museums in arriving at pricing structures for delivering imaging and rights services. It examines the new market realities and opportunities cultural institutions face due to the transition to digital collections.
One hundred US art museums were surveyed and in-depth interviews were carried out with 20 museums.

Amongst the most significant results of the study are:

  • Museums do not carry out image creation or rights and reproduction activity because of its profitability. (see section 6.1)
  • The primary driving factors for providing these services are
    •  to serve the public and educational use
    • to promote the museum and its collections
    • to serve publishers and commercial picture use (see 4.5)
  • 65% of those interviewed do less than 500 transactions a year. (see 5.2.2)
  • 56% of those interviewed received less than $50,000 a year from rights transactions. (see 5.4.1.)
  • 99% of those surveyed charge less for educational use than commercial use. (see 4.6)
  • The largest revenue earners were those museums where money was assigned directly back to the service department to offset or recouped against costs. (see 6.3)
  • The disconnect between the imaging and rights services and the museum's core audience means they do not receive the credit they deserve for enabling the wide dissemination, retailing and publication of the collection. (see 5.2.5-6)
  • The lack of business planning and clear cost accounting for the actual cost of service provision is undermining museum efforts. (see 6.4)
  • Most museums are setting pricing on the perceived market rate rather than with reference to the cost of actual service provision. (see 6.5)
  • There is a demonstrable commitment gap towards the rights function in some museums. (see 6.7)

The key recommendations from this study are:

  • Museums use this report as a means to review their priorities in providing imaging and rights services. It would ensure that the whole museum has a clear understanding of the purpose of these services and the way they link to the museum's mission. (see 7.1)
  • The rights service function should be centralized. Doing this will increase revenue and reduce the litigation exposure for the museum. (see 7.2)
  • The rights function is recommended to be given a full-time position that is considered as a professional activity in its own right and not an adjunct to any other function. (see 7.3)
  • Wherever possible revenue should be assigned back to the department that was responsible for making the revenue possible for the museum. (see 7.4)
  • Museums should consider establishing prices with reference to the actual cost of service provision using this reports suggested pricing model. (see 7.5)


This US study is an extension of Simon Tanner's previous work for the Mellon Foundation, which looked into pricing policy within UK and other European libraries and museums.
For the results of the UK/European study are available from Simon Tanner. Please contact him directly.