It seems like the issue of ticket prices is quickly making the rounds among the usual blog suspects. I’m glad to see so many people jumping on board with the discussion, although I know some managers are sick to death of it; it’s something which deserves this level of scrutiny…
This recent round started off with Peter Dobrin’s article from the beginning of September, I picked up on that here a few days ago and that was followed up by a post from bloggers Alex Ross and Marc Geelhoed as well as my AJ blog neighbors Greg Sandow and Andrew Taylor (among others who are contributing to the discussion every day). Andrew’s article really caught my attention, like so many from Andrew do, because I started thinking about the situation from a different perspective after letting Andrew’s piece rattle around in my head for awhile.
Andrew concluded with this point regarding price and value,
And if we’re not careful, we’ll forget that price is just a symptom of a larger problem that’s much more productive to talk about: the perceived value of what we have to offer.
In a chicken-or-egg sort of way I agree with that point. I think it is good to talk about perceived value but in order to have that conversation you have to define the parameters of how “perceived” and “value” will be discussed.
One of the issues I think the majority in this business are missing the boat on is the issue of “demand”. I hear the argument from some in the business who claim that there’s no demand for classical music and the business is overproducing the product. They support those claims with attendance statistics, etc. which, for the most part, I don’t challenge.
I believe that the average participation rate among the general population in live orchestral music events is abysmal (the Knight Foundation study from a few years ago put that percentage around 4%). However, that percentage is not the result of orchestral music’s inherent value so much as other factors.
One of the contributing factors to the decline in attendance has been the alarming increase of ticket prices. Many orchestras have willfully segregated a large segment of the population who would be willing to patronize live concerts if it weren’t for the high ticket prices. That’s gone on long enough the business is seeing that same segment of ticket buyers nearly disappear (about 15% of the whole for orchestras who have an average attendance rate around 65%).
The result is more people than ever see orchestra concerts as events designed for a segment of the upper economic class. What do you typically observe when any other business or service experiences a fall in demand (you can lump for profit, nonprofit, and government into that category)? They either fade away into oblivion or find a way to create new consumers.
Orchestras are no different, they need to go out and create a larger and more diverse customer base. In order to do that they’ll need to reexamine just about everything they do with the exception of the actual product; the music. The moment you start screwing around with your core competency you’re doomed (or you don’t realize that you’re becoming a completely different business altogether, more on that in a future article).
The nasty aspect to all of this is earned income, but that’s a big enough issue it deserves a dedicated discussion. Instead, it’s more worthwhile to follow Andrew’s original suggestion and begin with discussions like this surrounding how to create increase value (perceived or not) in the product; or in non manager-speak, how do you get more people involved in live orchestra concerts. Once orchestras begin to find answers to that problem, then they can begin to shape the other supporting issues such as the earned income gap, the cost of marketing, and endowment campaigns.
The article about ticket prices from earlier in the week garnered some fascinating comments from readers. If you haven’t seen them yet, take a moment to go through them.