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July 22, 2011


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Wow, it's so rare that I disagree with you so completely. I am well-acquainted with two major theaters (one commercial, one NFP, neither Arena) that are using dynamic pricing extremely successfully, without compromising their missions in any way. And making money. Heaven forbid!

Of COURSE there is data. There is TONS of data. (No, I don't have access to it online.) Data is collected BEFORE dynamic pricing is begun, on sales patterns, preferred seats, subscriber habits, and what tickets are actually worth in the marketplace. I know of no theater that has entered into dynamic pricing lightly, and without first SPENDING a lot of money on consultants, etc.

But I'm more confused by how you seem to see artistic/community mission and commerce as an either/or proposition. Dynamic pricing in no way precludes setting aside seats for education programs, audience outreach, student tickets, or other subsidies. It is primarily for full-price tickets. If a show is a hit, and people are paying full price for it, why SHOULDN'T you charge more? It doesn't prevent you from sending tickets to TKTS or TDF also (to be NYC-centric for a moment; other cities have their equivalents) or providing other inexpensive options. It's all data-driven, so it's not even necessarily show-by-show, but seat-by-seat. Back in the day I would frequently get a partial view seat on Broadway because it was $20. I hope dynamic pricing brings those days back, because the seats in less demand, even for a high-demand show will be pushed down.

Think about the reverse of The Producers. If all your tickets are $65, and a show ISN'T selling, dynamic pricing means those prices can drop, which might get more people to see it, which might build word of mouth, which might...drive the prices up. Sure, there are other ways of doing that, but with dynamic pricing it's built-in. You don't need a coupon or a membership somewhere. It can also drive people into less popular nights, making for fuller houses all around. Why let the seat go empty just because it's "supposed" to cost a certain amount?

This idea that art and commerce are supposed to be mutually exclusive just makes me crazy (obviously). Not-for-profit doesn't mean "don't make money." You can absolutely provide for your community and your artists and make great art and still let people who are willing to pay for it pay for it. On top of everything else, fiscally responsible non-profits are MUCH more attractive to funders, which means more money for all those programs that make non-profits different from commercial organizations.


Here's another thing: Audience members frequently balk at being asked for a donation after they've just paid for a ticket or a subscription. "I just gave you money and now you want more?" They don't necessarily see the connection, or realize that their ticket doesn't cover the costs. But these same people are willing to spend more for their ticket. It's purely psychological, of course. It's the same money, and they don't even get the tax deduction for it! But they have the sense that they're paying for goods received. So why the hell shouldn't we take advantage of that?

And also, of course I agree with you that "a theatre could save itself by, you know, doing other things." Absolutely. Dynamic pricing isn't the only answer, nor is it right for every theatre/community/audience base (hence the need to get all that data before you start).


I don't see it as an art vs. commerce argument, not really and I don't see it as telling theatres they need to stay poor, but if you're sacrificing your community's access to your shows in order to bring in more revenue, I do think you have to ask yourself the question of why and what does that mean for your organization.

If there is this much data, then share it! Don't simply assert that the critics are all wrong. Prove it! I may be hotheaded and bullheaded and other-kind-of-headed, but if you say, "Well here are the numbers pre-dynamic pricing and here the numbers post and you see it does everything we said," I'll tip my hat and go grumble about something else. Just show us the numbers that make sense.

The entire push for dynamic pricing just doesn't jibe with the other major problem we're facing: dwindling audiences. It seems like a scheme to get more money out of the audiences already coming. That's a dangerous game because sooner or later, you're going to lose that audience. Building new audiences, non-traditional audiences, you have to make sure you're giving them a good return on their ticket price, whatever it is. Inflating the price, artificially or not, risks some deep dissatisfaction.

I don't really see it as a commerce/art divide; if anything, I see it as a commerce/service divide. Non-profits are supposed to be service organizations. When we start asking the questions a commercial producer would ask (why can't we charge more for this product), we're entering that area and all of the things that entails. I don't mean to suggest that theatres enter it lightly, but the reasoning to me always seems a bit glib and glosses over the larger questions.


Additionally, we are at a point where every time arts funding gets put on the chopping block, we insist that we're a valuable community resource that shouldn't have to function as a normal business, that making art beholden to the whims of the market is dangerous for our society and that some things are vital enough to be protected, regardless of whether they make money.

Then, when someone grumbles about high ticket prices--and regardless of the average ticket price, dynamic pricing is supposed to lead to higher top-tier ticket prices--people say "but the market will bear this!" And "why shouldn't we take advantage of market forces to maximize our revenue!"

To which I say... but what about your first argument? It's no wonder people think that art is essentially a luxury good like a fur coat that a group of shysters have conned congress into giving money and tax breaks to. 9/10ths of the year, that's how we behave.

I know this is more combative than 99's being, and I agree that i'm persuadable on this. Show me the evidence that the broad claims made for adopting the ticket pricing system of the airline industry works, and I'll at least clam up about it. But if all dynamic ticket pricing leads to is more affordable seats for either people already in the know or for shows no one wants to see then, frankly, I think it exacerbates issues of access rather than fixing them.

Our ticket pricing schemes need to reflect our values. And I just don't think that charging as much as you can possibly get for a ticket is in line with what the people who designed the 501(c)3 tax code intended.


What Isaac said.

Oh and for the record I've haven't heard anyone in favor of dynamic pricing effectively deal with the point he (and I, and others) have made. How can you be both a dynamic pricer and a worthy cause?


Once again, I started out trying to answer the question, but I made a post that went on a completely different tangent.

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