Price is NOT the Problem: Rethinking Pricing Strategies in Arts and Culture

Key Takeaways

Pricing is challenging but critical for arts and cultural organisations. This whitepaper provides insights and advice on utilising pricing as a strategic tool to build stronger customer relationships while boosting revenue. Discover how small shifts can make a big difference.

Setting the right prices for shows, exhibitions, and events is one of the most complex yet impactful decisions arts and cultural professionals make. Get pricing wrong, and it can mean lacklustre audience engagement and financial instability. Get it right, and organisations can thrive, forging lasting relationships with their communities.

As critical as pricing decisions are, they are often made based on assumptions and incomplete data rather than using data to guide decisions. This means that all too often, arts and cultural organisations leave money on the table.

Read on for . Small but meaningful shifts can transform pricing into an engine for building audience relationships and organisational resilience.

This Whitepaper was produced with CEO and founder Sean Kelly of Vatic 

The Problem with Pricing is Us

  • Insular Decision-Making

    Every time patrons make a purchase they are having a conversation with you about price that provides insight around the more subtle aspects of price thresholds. Audiences are often less price sensitive than we imagine, so assuming increasing prices will discourage attendance or hamper accessibility is a trap. Customers value what they value. 

  • Conflict Avoidance

    Mission driven arts and culture organisations might find frank pricing conversations difficult, as it can seem at odds with higher missions and goals. However, without open conversations, prices can stagnate, ultimately damaging your ability to successfully achieve your mission by leading to financial instability. Pricing can be thought of as a customer loyalty tool that helps achieve organisations’ missions while supporting arts workers.

  • Status Quo Bias

    It is tempting to just benchmark pricing against other venues or reuse previous years’ prices. While this is simple and seems safe, the status quo leaves a lot of money on the table.

  • Emotion-Driven Reactions

    Slow sales, engaging new audiences, and rising inflation often make organisations think reducing prices is best, but reactionary moves undermine revenue without solving root issues; data should drive tactical pricing decisions rather than emotions and past experiences, which don’t always reveal buyer motivations.

Why Pricing Matters

Optimising revenues helps organisations achieve financial stability and lifts arts and cultural organisations in multifaceted ways:

  • Raising realised revenue on high demand shows, means capacity can be opened up to offer free or reduced tickets for underserved groups.

  • Higher total ticket value better covers costs of production, performers, and behind-the-scenes staff supporting a livable wage

  • Research shows patrons spending more are more likely to give and volunteer. £500+ ticket-buyers donate 5X more in the long-term

  • Optimised revenue can support less popular, but equally valuable offerings, as well as support free or subsidised community or educational events

Thoughtful pricing helps organisations balance mission with sustainability and what patrons value — the ultimate win-win.

Reframing Perspectives

There are four key factors that can help reframe our perspectives around pricing:

  • Use data to challenge assumptions

  • Be strategic with discounts

  • Make incremental pricing changes

  • Take an audience centric view on pricing

One through three are fairly straightforward, but four is worth exploring a little more 👇

Audience-centric Pricing and Price Elasticity

Patron value perceptions and price sensitivity vary by segment. Pricing influences:

  • Perceived quality and value, impacting decision to attend

    Higher prices signal quality, exclusivity, and better experiences

  • Psychological response

    Those paying more view experience more positively and value the experience more

  • Loyalty

    Premium prices are an investment in a beloved organisation. Casual buyers won’t buy more just because of lowered prices

  • Spend and donations

    Higher ticket spends are directly correlated to donations

Demand and value perception, which impact price elasticity, differ across shows, celebrity performers, entertainment options, demographics, and other factors. 

Understanding price elasticity through data analysis, and incrementally changing prices, allows effective dynamic pricing while managing customer expectations.

Practical Steps

Determining optimal pricing for arts and cultural events can be a major challenge. Finding the sweet spot that maximizes revenue while maintaining accessibility requires continuous experimentation, analysis, and refinement grounded in data.

To help you on this pricing optimisation journey, we’ve put together the following 9-step guide for implementing dynamic pricing strategies tailored to your audiences.

  • Analyse pricing levels, promotions, and sales trends from previous shows and seasons. Identify price elasticity thresholds by correlating price changes to demand shifts. Look for patterns around audiences, shows, and external factors.

    Look at historical data to help challenge your assumptions. What is the most your organisation has ever charged? More than £100? Why? Take a close look at your data and get customer feedback to understand what different  events are really worth to a given audience segment.

  • Factor entertainment alternatives that audiences consider into decisions around pricing sensitivity. For example, a music festival nearby might increase willingness to pay for special theatre performances or exhibitions.

  • Pinpoint specific shows, times, or audience segments where new pricing strategies can be tested or applied without major risk. Start small before implementing pricing changes across the board.  

    Popular shows and weekends likely present opportunities to increment prices upwards judging demand strength. Use dynamic pricing tools to identify and price high-demand performances.

  • Ask existing and potential audiences open-ended questions around price perceptions, sensitivities and their reaction to potential changes. Online feedback forms, post-show polls, direct outreach, and social monitoring provide quick avenues to gain regular input.

    Integrate findings into pricing decisions rather than relying on internal assumptions.

  • Small, progressive price adjustments let you continuously gauge response while managing risks and objections. Raising prices too drastically could spark backlashes. But gentle nudges balanced with feedback channels and data allows you to continually optimise pricing.

    For example, for a high-demand show, consider starting with a 5% increase. Look at your sales data – are sales still strong? Inch up the price a little more, look at your data, and rinse and repeat until you get to the sweet spot. This applies to all your pricing bands too. If sales are good, consider raising prices across all bands rather than just slow moving ones – a £20 seat becoming a £21 seat seems a slight rise but gives better revenue uptick across the entire run.

  • When making price changes, particularly increases, clearly convey what additional value patrons receive. This might include VIP access, reduced fees, premium seat locations, discounts on future purchases, donations to nonprofit partners, etc. 

    Framing pricing around service over builds support. Promote prices as investments in programs audiences love. 

  • Organisation-wide discounts train audiences to wait before buying and undermine revenue. Offering strategic promotions around specific shows, times, or audiences helps focus your discount strategy. 

    Student promotions for weekday performances, loyalty discounts, early bird sales, social media contests, and first-timer rates maintain accessibility without condition-wide price drops. Make offers based on data-backed demand forecasts. 

  • Do post-show sales analyses to correlate pricing tweaks with demand changes show-over-show. Keep surveying audiences to guide ongoing optimisations. 

    Dynamic pricing really is about being responsive and audience-led. It is less about your feelings and more about what the audience thinks – and the data that backs that up.  

  • Tools like online customer analytics, dynamic ticket pricing engines, demand forecasting models, and automated surveying minimise manual overhead to gain pricing insights and make data-backed decisions.

For Example

Most people go for afterwork drinks on Fridays, making Saturday the venue’s busiest night. A couple interested in tickets for a show’s closing weekend could go either Friday or their preferred night, Saturday.

Should tickets be

Option 1: £45 Friday, £55 Saturday 

Option 2:£45 Friday, £90 Saturday 

The highest price is typically 50-100% more than the lowest price that week. So £70-£90 is when patrons really start thinking about value. A big enough price difference makes customers evaluate what they truly want.

No one is making a value proposition decision off of £10.

In our example, Option 2 means, you will sell more tickets for Friday than normal while maximising revenues for Saturday – your busiest night. 

Key Takeaways

Small but consistent shifts in practices and mindset allow pricing strategies to build both lasting audience relationships and strong revenue.

Rather than a single perfect price, responsive, data-driven pricing strategies backed by customer insight are much more effective in finding pricing sweet spots matching demand across unique audience segments. Pricing should remain dynamic over seasons to optimise accessibility and value against demand. 

Ultimately it is all about what the customer really values.

Find out how Ticketsolve can help you to optimise your pricing strategy