With the Ticketing Technology Forum fast approaching, there’s much talk in the office about the many different ticketing platforms that will be showcased in Dublin, and the discussions that will inevitably follow as the industry debates the most successful method to sell more tickets to more people. Tickets can now be purchased over the phone, online, with your mobile, through social media or using dedicated apps.
It was therefore refreshing this weekend, to experience first-hand an organisation that is flourishing by doing none of the above. Angel Comedy is held in the upstairs function room at the Camden Head in Angel and provides short, professional stand up comedy shows completely free of charge. All you have to do is turn up and try to get a seat. We did just this on Saturday night and were treated to five comedians who put on a brilliant show for just over and hour. It’s a true rarity to be in London and not feel the constant tug on the purse strings at every establishment you visit.
What was unusual was that at the end of the show, the audience were asked that if they felt so inclined, they were welcome to ‘donate’ the amount they felt was an appropriate ticket price for their evening’s entertainment. With a genuine sense that no one was expected to part with any cash (they had after all been told it was a free show), I watched as everyone around me very happily dug into their wallets to retrieve cash, myself included.
It had worked. They had given the audience the entertainment first and then put the decision in their hands as to how much it had been worth, and it would appear that they were making a profit. The pay-what-you-want idea is not a new concept, the likes of Gordon Ramsay has used the method on TV shows, and in 2007 Radiohead famously released the digital download of ‘In Rainbows’ with the simple phrase ‘it’s up to you’ on the payment screen, allowing fans to enter any amount between £0 and £100. Thom Yorke claims that this was their most successful album download at the time.
The idea sits in stark contrast with fans last week at Anfield walking out at the 77th minute to protest hikes in ticket prices (which have soared to £77). Average ticket buyers were so strongly opposed to the rise in price that they were prepared to forfeit a game to ensure that those in charge were made aware that they did not support the increases. And can you blame them? The new ticket price takes the spend out of the comfortable price bracket for the majority of their fans, who are on average to less-than-average wages. Alienating the majority of your audience will never result in success and it’s always going to be difficult to justify price increases without a noticeable change in the experience for consumers.
Perhaps pay-what-you-want ticket prices will be the future of keeping audiences satisfied and happy. But could live entertainment still flourish if fans only ever paid what they thought the service was worth? In some cases perhaps not. If nothing else perhaps it would serve as a firm reminder that your audience must be at the absolute forefront of everything you do. Because without them, why are you doing it?