The free shows you can pay for...

A 'third way' at the Fringe?

An Edinburgh Fringe promoter says he has found a ‘third way’ to put on shows, partway between free-admission and paid ticketing.

Shows at Bob Slayer’s three Heroes Of Fringe rooms will ostensibly be free... but festival-goers can also choose pay £5 for a ticket to guarantee entry.

And, like all free shows,a bucket will be passed round for ‘pay-what-you-want’ contributions at the end.

Slayer said he decided on the model after speaking to punters at oversubscribed free shows he ran in The Hive last year.

He said: ‘Many people who couldn’t get in asked us if they could buy a ticket to guarantee getting entry on another date. We weren't set up to do it but this year we will be able to say yes.’

Slayer also ran paid shows last year, and like some other venues ‘papered’ the room with free tickets when sales were slow. But with the free tickets came a request for donations at the end if they enjoyed the show.

He said: ‘We found that these punters were more generous than on your average free show and more likely to give the ticket price or near.

‘We also chatted to people who had paid in advance to see what they thought about sitting next to someone who had got in for free. We found out that people understood why we were doing this. Our experience is that people respond well to honesty. They understood that it kept ticket prices down. And importantly maximised how much money the act would see.

‘Quite a few of them had experienced papering anyway and the more cynical among them guessed that this was happening a lot at the Fringe, and it was being used to prop up unreasonably high ticket prices. Partway through the Fringe we realised that what we were doing was a trial for a different way of selling tickets that took on the best properties of both models. In our experience high and rising ticket prices is one of the biggest concerns for punters at the Fringe.’

He added that he had hoped to offer a ‘pay-what-you-want’ system for advance tickets this year, but the Fringe box office is not set up for that.

Like the other free venues, Slayer does not charge acts to play the space. He makes his money from running the bar, from sponorship from Scottish Borders Brewery and Bawbags Underpants, and a cut from producing some of the shows at his venues: The Hive in Niddry Street, which has two rooms, and Bob’s Bookshop on South College Street.

He said the favourable deal has helped lure away acts from the bigger venues, with a 2013 line-up headed by Phil Kay, Ivan Brackenbury, Lewis Schaffer and La Clique cabaret star Miss Behave, who is co-promoting the bookshop venue.

He said: ‘The big venues could have easily prevented the increasing flow of quality acts from their shows to free shows and to promoters like us by simply offering fairer deals to developing acts that don't put them in debt. However they have shown that they are unable or unwilling to do so as it would eat into their all important profit margins’

‘We have been searching for a model that helps us fill that gap between free and paid shows. And I think we are getting close to it. We are allowing acts to grow organically instead of having to take a leap of faith from a free to a paid show and risk losing a bunch of cash with a pay-to-play promoter or suddenly having no audience.’

Slayer is also setting up a Heroes Of Fringe book publishing imprint with independent publishers Bennet & Bloom.

Their first title is Kay’s memoirs, Verbal Diary, described as being like a ‘nine-hour Phil Kay gig with all the stories he has told and more.’

It will be sold at the bookshop venue, and on a cart around the Fringe and – Slayer hopes – will be the first of many from comedians.

‘Our model will provide our authors with the best deal possible,’ he said. ‘They have creative freedom and ownership of their work but have the best possible support, distribution and marketing that can help them reach and develop their audience.’

Meanwhile, applications for the Free Fringe are up by 50 per cent on 2012, founder Peter Buckley Hill said today. His team are now trying to seek out more venues to add to the 33 they already have to accommodate demand. 'Rather than declare ourselves full, we’re attempting to expand, so that all our good shows get a chance to perform,' he said.

Published: 17 Apr 2013

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.