FROM TC: The current issue of ArtsProfessional has a special section, "Arts For Free" which includes a number of interesting articles and commentary. Here are some highlights:

 

Record-breaking 73,000 people use "Kids Go Free' offer at 30+ London shows

Emma De Souza, Head of Marketing and Media for the Society of London Theatre, 11/21/11

'Kids Week' [in London theatres] takes place in August every year. It is a simple ticket deal: a child aged 16 or under can go free to any participating show when accompanied by an adult paying full price, and up to two extra children's tickets can be purchased at half price. Customers can also book a range of free pre- or post-show activities. Children can delight in the thrill of being on a West End stage, the magic of meeting the cast or the chance to "unleash their inner dancing queen" with the creative team. Others prefer backstage tours, exploring technical wizardry or attending creative sessions with top West End marketing agencies. The Society of London Theatre has been running Kids Week since May 1998, following the launch of Kids Night on Broadway by the Broadway League (our sister organisation in the USA) earlier that same year. It was on a very small scale compared to today's promotion, and it was slightly tricky to persuade producers to give away tickets for an initiative whose benefits were still to be proven. However, with a good take-up for the ticket offers and events, and a productive media partnership with the Evening Standard, that first Kids Week was a huge success. Over the years, Kids Week has grown and developed with its key audience. SOLT's box office figures suggested that the last week of August would be the best time to run it, so the dates were moved. Promotional activity was stepped up. Embracing the opportunities of social media, we also have active Facebook and Twitter communities. As a result of continuing demand, we extended Kids Week to two weeks in 2004 and to three weeks in 2010. With such strong brand values and a community of engaged customers, the interest in the initiative just keeps growing. This is great news for a not-for-profit organisation such as SOLT, as Kids Week fulfils all of our key objectives raising the profile of theatre, selling more tickets and developing a theatre-going habit from an early age. To mark our fifteenth birthday in 2012, for the first time ever, Kids Week will run for the whole month of August.

 

  • Charlie Rheinberg explains how a pub in a small village in North Yorkshire is linking up with a theatre company to enable performers to try out new work in a country retreat while the audience participates, watches and enjoys the experience for free.
    Big ambitions for the Little Festival of Everything
  • A free stage in the foyer creates opportunity for artists and audiences alike. Sarah Gilbert explains why the Wales Millennium Centre is so enthusiastic about theirs.
    Making it theirs

Commentary: The problem with offering the arts for free

Tim Baker, Director of Baker Richards, 11/21/11

Free is such an attractive pricing strategy for the arts, because it is seen to overcome the perception of risk in attending an unknown event. However, free is not without problems - and not just the fact that there is no income. Perhaps the most prominent example of free as a pricing strategy in the arts is the free entry to national [UK] museums introduced in 2001. Research found that while the number of visits increased by nearly two-thirds, the number of people increased by only one-third, illustrating that a good proportion of the increase in visits was actually an increase in frequency by people who were already going. [Also,] "although there has been a rise in visiting among those who might be described as being 'socially excluded', the most significant impact on visiting appears to have been among those groups who traditionally have always gone to museums and galleries." The national museums that previously charged for admission were awarded extra government funding to compensate them for the lost ticket income, but this was predominantly benefitting existing attenders. This presents a moral argument against using free as a pricing strategy for the publicly subsidised arts. More recently, free was used to encourage young people to try theatre. However, evaluation found that only 8% of respondents in a survey of young people taking up the offer were first time attenders. Research also found that 80% said they would now be more likely to re-attend, but would pay only 10 to do so. This highlights the problem of using free to stimulate trial. Free attracts big initial take-up, but the gap between free and paying full price is so large that retention of trialists is limited. People don't care as much about things they don't pay for. How often in theatres do we find it is people with complimentary tickets who don't turn up? Even the smallest amount of payment represents a conscious investment. This is the biggest problem with free as a pricing strategy for the arts: art is the very definition of a high value experience. If we give it away we undermine its value.

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