Why Rembrandt knows more about monetising content than the Premier League

On consecutive pages of my favourite newspaper there were recently two stories that for me, at least, flagged up the conundrum (wrapped in a contradiction) faced by content owners; both in terms of how they control and how they monitise.

On page 7 of the paper there was a story from the National Gallery in London , which had lifted its ban on photography. Want a selfie with Rembrandt aged 63 – knock yourself out.

The gallery’s reasoning was that it couldn’t distinguish between visitors using their smartphones (and the gallery’s free wifi) to find out a little more about Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, born in the Netherlands in 1606 and whose self portrait at the age of 63 was one of his last works) and those taking a crafty snap to post on Facebook.

Turn to page 8 in the same newspaper and there’s a story about the Premier League warning footy fans not to post smartphone videos of goals online. Obviously they don’t forsee their staff facing a problem telling the difference between the goal posters and someone simply texting a mate: “Our centre forward is a w**ker – get the beers in”. (To be fair, they are also clamping down on goals recorded from televised footage and then posted onlien, as well as developing a range of technologies to spot this type of copyright infringement.)


You can see where the Premier League is coming from. They make billions from selling the rights to such footage. Why should Sky or BT Sport part with ridiculous amounts of money (you can tell I’m not a footbal fan) if fans can share the highlights on Vine for free?

But the National Gallery must face a similar challenge, surely? Copyrighted images of priceless artworks are what keep galleries like the National running. If big business stops buying the rights to such images – “we want to use Rembrandt aged 63 as the cornerstone for a new male grooming ad campaign” – and visitors no longer pick up postcards and posters in the gallery shop, because they’re content with the picture they’ve have on their iPhone 5, the revenue loss is significant… catastrophic.

  • So, which approach is the right one?
  • The answer could be neither.
  • Both are husbanding content in a very traditional way.


The National Gallery made a judgement call based on resource (staff and best use of their time). It’s also a decision that brings it into line with other major galleries, such as the Tate (or, as I would put it, the National’s competitors).

The Premier League has made a decision based on its existing revenue model, relationships with its big spenders and the very human reaction to losing one’s grip on something, which is to grip tighter.

Both stories demonstrate how the ways in which people engage with an experience – a priceless art work, or a vital goal in injury time – have expanded.

The old master selfie and the six second loop of video uploaded to the Vine sharing platform are natural extensions of the National Gallery shop postcard, or the commiserative post-defeat pint.

Where next?

The BIG question is how do, or should, you monetise? On the face of it what you have is more opportunities to make less money.

Somebody recently gave me a copy of The Curve by Nicolas Lovell, a fantastic book that looks to make sense of the rapidly expanding opportunities to publish (and share) things digitally; audiences reluctance to pay anything for them and the need for those who own and control content to make money from it.

Much of his argument focuses on the need to harness the digital content landscape, not as an opportunity to make money (in the first instance) but to build relationships. Not the tweety, creaky relationships that evaporate in an instant but a bridge of two-way dialogue, trust, mutual respect and reward between the creator/curator and audience.

It is from the more robust platform that the process of identifying both what might be paid for at what price and who within this broader audience might pay what for it begins. I know, it’s a complicated sentence. Let’s put it into a bell curve.
  1. Get to know and engage with your audience really, really well.
  2. Look at what you have to sell digitally and how you might find exclusive elements within it worth paying top dollar for.
  3. Find the segments within your broad audience that will pay these top dollars.

It is both very simple and extremely difficult but Lovell has some impressive case studies.

And let’s take a leaf out of Rembrandt’s book. He may not have had a Vine account but he knew a thing or two about building relationships with patrons, which he did extremely successfully in the early part of his career (bar the odd cock up). He also used apprentices to produce lower priced copies and etchings.

What seems to be missing from both the National Gallery and the Premier League approach is serious (plus thoughtful and fresh) consideration of the mass market audience. (Well, you could argue that staff no longer telling gallery visitors to put their phones away removes a small source of irritation from the visitor experience perspective, but I don’t believe that was a major driver).

What it really smacks of is a desperate desire to keep the current model running smoothly. I think Rembrandt would be disappointed.