Adaptistration Poll: Subscriptions

Following yesterday’s article about the Met’s recent subscription issue, a number of readers sent in private email messages expressing an opinion about the future of subscriptions and how they related to performing arts organizations (including several from ballet folks – thanks for reading!). As such, it would be intriguing to find out where readers fall on the issue of subscription packages so take a moment to make your voice known through the following poll…

Granted, the poll options only cover the most basic of subscription
models and something more thorough would certainly produce more
practical results. However, I hoping the real value in approaching the issue in the wake of the Met article will
come in the form of reader comments and I encourage everyone to expand
on the topic by leaving a comment after taking the poll.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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7 thoughts on “Adaptistration Poll: Subscriptions

  1. Disclaimer: the options in the survey are too limiting and don’t begin to reflect the range of options that are currently available. (Many orchestras, for example, offer both fixed-series-style subscriptions as well as some form of flexible subscription; even those that are fixed-series only will have exchange provisions that effectively allow a “choose your own”).

    I’m going to seem old-fashioned in saying this, but I believe the fixed-series subscription is the right end of the spectrum to be in for subscriptions.

    Fixed series allow a presenter the freedom to be artistically adventurous within a series, while obliging them to build and nurture audience trust.

    Both these qualities are essential to healthy programming and healthy audiences.

    Offering only choose-your-own options or variations on that idea will result in cherry picking, with the result that only the boldest of presenters will be innovative and interesting and “lead” their audiences, while most will, out of caution and fearfulness, resort to populist programming that ends being stale for everybody.

    So I support a core of fixed-series programming, but with generous provisions for exchanges so no one is ever locked in to something they truly don’t want to see/hear or can’t attend.

    Yes, offer small CYO packages through the year, and allow a form of premium-seating/priced CYO subscription for those who truly want to pick and choose or who really need a high level of flexibility. But keep the focus on fixed-series packages as the most financially advantageous method for hearing lots of concerts/seeing lots of plays, whatever.

    All good observations, thanks for taking the time to submit something. you are correct that the poll options are limited, it is that way intentionally as listing the predominant number of subscriptions options and variations within each would have produced something far too cumbersome.

    At the same time, I would agree that the concept of subscriptions from the standpoint of creating themed sales packages continues to have merit (and will likely continue to do so for some time). On the other hand, approaching the issue from the Met’s standpoint as reported in the NYT is something that is past its prime and should be consciously faded out.

    As box office software platforms continue to improve, I think it is entirely possible that future generations of CYO packages and those offering automatic discounts to regular buyers will become the norm. I’m curious to see what other readers think. ~ Drew McManus

  2. I’ll be very curious to hear the rationale that the people voting for take-it-or-leave-it option are using.

    I voted for create-your-own, but I think the ideal is probably an array of subscription options, each with flexibility built in. Having core set of subscription packages with preselected concerts is valuable–some people probably do want to simply be told which concerts are going to be the core experience for the season, or offered thematic groupings. But it should be easy to exchange tickets from those pre-packaged deals.

    Some sort of create-your-own is also critical. Giving people a chance to plan ahead if they want to and giving them better-than-single-ticket prices as an incentive but letting them pick the concerts themselves is likely to be successful well into the future. Ideally, the create-your-own shouldn’t be a set number of concerts–patrons should be able to put together a subscription of however many concerts they’re actually interested in, under a pricing model that offers cheaper prices for larger bundles.

    But single tickets are going to make up a larger and larger percentage of total ticket sales, and the overall marketing strategy should work within that reality rather than trying to prop up the subscription model artificially. Organizations need to figure out how to optimize their single ticket sales now while the existing subscription model provides some financial cover.

    Great topic 🙂

  3. There’s so much upside to traditional packages – find ways to educate patrons about how they are a “solution” – price breaks, flexibility, how they are actually LESS of a commitment than single tix because you can exchange them unlike a typical single ticket. Those packages aren’t for every single person, but if you don’t come out hammering home the positives of the traditional packages, who will?

    Likewise, if you make a “preemptive” apology for your own traditional package products, why would anyone expect the patron to understand their value? It’d be like Diet Coke coming out with a message of “sorry for the sugary calorie-laden regular stuff, here, drink this!” Coke would be devaluing it’s top-line product in the process!

    CYO’s are nice as an offering among a number of options, but I see many organizations positioning the CYO Package as the “solution” to their very own traditional packages, in effect devaluing the product they would most like to see the patron purchase.

  4. I think most orchestra administrators would acknowledge (perhaps not publicly) that it’s difficult to come up with 40 or 60 or 100 concerts in a season that are all going to sell well… in that sense, fixed subscriptions may always be around in some form or another, since there are always a few shows throughout the year that need to be propped up by package sales. I’m thinking specifically of shows that lean more towards presenting obscure or modern works that just aren’t as popular in certain markets. I personally like concerts like this, so I worry that moving to a totally “a la carte” system would see the number of performances like this decline in the interest of giving every show mass appeal.

    Of course, it’s also interesting that sometimes those of us “on the inside” imagine our customers planning their lives around Beethoven symphonies, but in reality, there are a whole host of reasons people buy (or don’t buy) tickets to a particular show – programming aside. Some people just want to sit in the same seat every time they come.

  5. I like pick-your-own so I can cherry-pick to avoid seeing Tosca and Traviata for the, oh, fifth or sixth time in the last 13 years and can focus on operas I’ve never seen or standards with especially strong casts, since my local opera company is “building trust” with an incredibly dull and unadventurous season.

  6. I prefer what you call the “take it or leave it” packages for several reasons: (a) I want to support the organization, (any preferences or complaints about the programming I articulate other than by staying away); (b) I use the season to educate myself – listening to music I would not ordinarily have picked for myself. (This is how I discovered Mahler years ago); (c) I like having a regular schedule and regular seat for concerts.
    Bill in Dallas

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