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Monday, August 14

Pay What Now?

I’ve charged for shows at the Fringe in the classic paid-venue model. I’ve run free shows, which are horribly named after the venue cost to the performer, rather than the expectation on the audience. There’s nothing Free about the Free Fringe. The recent Pay What You Want model seems to be the most confusing of all, though.

If a pay what you want show is being charged the usual guarantee on box office sales that a paid show is being charged, with similar commissions and ticket printing costs, etc, then the pay what you want element is really a way to give out additional comps in the hope of receiving tips in a manner pretty damaging to business. Surely the point of the non paid venue route is that you reduce your risk as a producer?

The pay what you want model offered by “Heroes of Comedy”, at venues like Monkey Barrel, is a lot fairer. The venue takes a modest registration fee and a small cut of any box office sales. The show gets the rest, including anything that goes into the bucket. Great, right?

I reckon not.

A quick overview of the model, first. The performances are ticketed. The tickets are not 100% of the seating allocation, but probably close to that. Tickets are maybe £5. If the show sells out, you have to wait outside in the hope of getting in, but you’re also effectively told the show is full, so you may not. If the show is not sold out, you can show up without a ticket and get in. At the end of the show, the bucket speech is there to ask non ticket holders for a voluntary contribution.

This seems to make sense. It’s confusing when there’s a sell out, since you feel like you can’t get in, and might decide to leave on that basis, except in both shows I chanced my arm at waiting for, I got in.

I think it’s actually wrong… if your show is good.

Let’s take Phil Nichol’s show as an example. Most people had paid £5. I was in for free. He did the bucket speech, including asking for a tenner for a USB stick of cool stuff. I gave him a tenner. Most of his audience would have given him £5 a head for that show, and some of those would have given him the tenner, but since they’d all already paid, most people walked away from his bucket.

My view is that the model limits the audience members to a minimum payment and limits the size of the audience to the ticket allocation… by default.

In other words, to prevent the risk of being underpaid, or having lack of commitment from audience planning to see your show, you forego the opportunity to be paid nearly twice as much.

When we saw Stuart Goldsmith in 2015, his free show bucket speech put a clear price on the ticket, way above the average for a free show. The show was good and he got paid its worth. More than you’d dare put on a ticket price for a “reservation against a pay what you want price”.

Pay what you want bucket speeches are generally more awkward than free venue speeches, because you have to accept that ticket holders are already under no obligation to pay and probably shouldn’t.

I think the model doesn’t work. I also think it doesn’t NOT work. It’s more of a Five Pound Fringe with a Free Fringe stand-by queue… confusing for punters.


That said, the venues are very nice!

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