1,700 sign protest letter to Edinburgh Fringe chiefs | Comedy world angry over festival's cuts – and spiralling accommodation fees © zoetnet / Flickr

1,700 sign protest letter to Edinburgh Fringe chiefs

Comedy world angry over festival's cuts – and spiralling accommodation fees

Almost 1,700 comedians, producers and agents have signed an open letter complaining to the Edinburgh Fringe Society for not doing enough to make it easier to perform at the festival.

The petition, organised by the Live Comedy Association, was triggered by the decision to ditch the app that helps people navigate the event. Key to the complaint is that the money-saving decision was made in secret, and only came to light in response to a Fringe-goers’ tweet.

Addressed to chief executive Shona McCarthy, the missive also demanded to know how the Fringe Society had spent the grants it was given to get though lockdown, what it was doing to address the staggering cost of accommodation during the festival – and to respond to rumours the Half Price Ticket Hut was not going to be in place this year.

Fringe bosses today issued an updated response to concerns, saying an updated app would have cost more than £100,000 to develop. ‘This was simply impossible,’ the Fringe Society wrote on its website.

‘It is a sad reality of the impact of Covid that there was nothing to consult about,’ they said. ‘We have had to make lots of tough choices to help as many people as possible to survive the effects of the pandemic, and this was one of them.’

They pointed out that the app had just seven per cent of the users that the website had and claimed ‘more than nine in every ten app and web users still prefer the website’.

The statement - coming two days before the printed programme’s launch on Thursday – also confirmed the physical Half Price Hut will not be returning ‘as the current infrastructure had reached its end of life’.

Discounted tickets will be available at the Fringe box office on the Royal Mile and electronically. There are no physical tickets at the Fringe this year, with all admission via e-ticketing.

One of the main concerns of the petition, which attracted 1,682 signatures in a day before closing at 6pm tonight, is the lack of transparency and consultation.

In their response, the Fringe Society said: ‘A full-blown, full-throttle Fringe is within touching distance! As interest and excitement grows, more and more artists, venues and other stakeholders are rightly asking questions about what to expect – and what will be missing – this year.  

‘Every decision made about Fringe 2022 was made against the backdrop of severe financial risk

‘Let’s face it: Covid-19 nearly finished us off. In 2020 we lost all our revenue and faced insolvency. We received a £1million loan from the Scottish Government just to survive. £670,000 of that loan was immediately given directly to artists who had paid registration fees.

‘Even as late as December 2021, when so many decisions about this year’s Fringe had to be made, we were in survival mode. We had no sponsorship funds; a skeleton staff; and no certainty about the future of major events. It is a miracle the Fringe is happening at all – and venues and artists deserve all the credit for the way they have responded.’

The Society was criticised for moving its Fringe Central office to the new shopping and leisure centre St James Quarter – but they say the move includes an ‘in-kind’ sponsorship that has actually saved £50,000 on rent and fit-out costs.

They also point out that for the last 15 years, registration fees  have been frozen, even though £300 at 2007 prices is equivalent to around £462 today.  They are committed to freezing registration fees until 2027. 

Coffers have, however, benefitted from a growth in the number of shows from 2,050 in 2007 to 3,197 currently announced for this year.

The Live Comedy Association letter  expresses strong disgruntlement about the festival management and the way it communicates with performers and others who create make the event.

‘We are extremely dismayed that the Fringe have failed to provide an app this year and alarmed at the complete lack of communication to the stakeholders,’ the letter begins. ‘After two years of lockdown, we feel little has been done to actively improve the Fringe experience for participants and now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the expense of taking part.’

‘What is the reasoning for not consulting with stakeholders about the lack of an app this year?’ the letter asks. ‘And worst of all, no communication, consultation or explanation offered.

And they pointed out the app gave easy access to a list of shows starting nearby soon - a function not yet available on the website.

‘It is absolutely vital during the Fringe, especially selling tickets on the day or closer to the time of the show. It is shocking that there is no reduction in registration fee either and that the way performers found out such a huge change to this year’s Fringe was a response to a tweet asking where the app was.’

The Society say they are investing in mobile website improvements this year and are ‘finalising a new "Nearby Now" button on the homepage, replicating the functionality of the app’, which ‘will be live in August’.

Ms McCarthy previously said off the move to ditch the app: I’m sorry this is the situation and can reassure the Fringe community that we have every intention of re-instating the app once our finances are more robust.’

Comedians have been flooding Twitter with complaints about the move.

Comedian Mark Watson – who is also producing shows this year via his Impatient company said the software was ‘pretty essential to acts, especially those with smaller marketing budgets. Plus it’s 2022 so running a massive festival without a central app is like if you had the World Cup but didn’t tell people which grounds the games were at.’

Darius Davies wrote on Twitter: ‘If I were a conspiracy theorist - which I am - I would say the lack of app for @edfringe is a direct attack on @freefringefest  @TheFreeFringe can't have anyone going to the 'free' shows and not the precious BIG 4.'

Rob Mullholland tweeted to the Fringe Society: ‘This is such a ridiculously backwards decision. The app was just about the only useful thing you did with the monstrous registration fees you collect off performers. You should be going app-only rather than spending £1m+ or artist's money printing hugely wasteful brochures. Also you should be offering full refunds to anyone who paid a registration fee expecting to be on the ap

And Eleanor Morton said: ‘If you think comedians are over-reacting about the app news, please remember: the fee to register with the Fringe for a month is just under £400. The people you (and literally thousands of other people) just gave that money too now say they don't have enough money £400 is SO MUCH MONEY to most people, ESPECIALLY if you're not guaranteed to make anything, have to pay rent, flyering, venue etc.

‘So yes, it grates when an app that really helps audiences find acts is taken away, and the excuse feels so hollow. Because it reminds us all that the whole of August, which relies on US, the performers and venue staff, to make it happen, is incredibly exploitative. And we don't have to put up with it.’

And on the topic of spiralling accommodation costs, the Fringe Society said: ‘We have used our convening role to lobby for affordable accommodation for artists and have secured around 1,200 rooms capped at £280 per week through partners like Queen Margaret’s University, Unite Students, University of Edinburgh and Theatre Digs Booker.’

News of the app’s cancellation came as the Fringe Society published a new vision for the future, promising a ‘world class digital experience’.

The independent app PlanMyFringe has the same functionality as the ditched Fringe app, as well as some extra features. It can not be used directly to book tickets, but does link through to the relevant page on edfringe.com. Chortle’s Edinburgh Fringe listings can also be searched by the hour. 

Published: 4 Jul 2022

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