The ‘More if/Less if’ ticketing strategy at Audience Delight 2019-2020 Winner Outburst Queer Arts Festival
Pay-what-you-want pricing is not a new concept. It went mainstream in 2007 when Radiohead self-released their album ‘In Rainbows’ as a pay-what-you-want download. Since then, we’ve seen more and more members of the cultural sector trying it out like Edinburgh Fringe Festival or London’s Jackson’s Lane’s Postcards Festival.
Closer to home, Belfast’s Outburst Queer Arts Festival has been working with their own version of pay-what-you-want for the past two years. Their ‘More if/Less if’ ticketing strategy has worked well for them and is our Audience Delight Award 2019-2020 winner for Best New Ticketing Initiative.
We’ve had a chat with Ruth McCarthy, Outburst’s artistic director, to look at how it works, its pros & cons and tips for any organisations who would like to introduce something similar.
What is More if/Less if?
More if/Less if offers a set price for a ticket but gives the audience the option to pay more, if they can and less, if they can’t. People with a bit more spare cash can opt to pay more than a £10 ticket for example, meaning that others are given the opportunity to attend an event they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Outburst came up with the idea after years of collecting feedback from their audiences and trying different things to see what worked. Their audiences know which shows are part of the ticketing scheme by looking for a big dot in their brochure and online programme. The number of “less if” tickets are capped at 10% of the capacity so box office targets can still be met. But that 10% cut off is flexible, to allow Outburst to respond to audience need and demand.
As an LGBTQ+ organisation, Outburst are passionate about inclusion and operate with the motto “leave no one behind”. They want to give the chance to everybody to come along. Cost can be a major barrier, especially for young LGBTQ+ people who may not have access to their own money and may be unable to ask for parental support to attend LGBTQ+ events. Sometimes family relationships can break down when a child comes out, leading to withholding of money and a higher risk of homelessness (Source: The Proud Trust).
Although Outburst has not yet been able to carry a full analysis of the success of the scheme, they have seen indicators like raised box office income and an overwhelmingly positive response from their attendees. It pays to listen to your audiences.
What are the pros and cons of ‘More if/Less if’?
‘More if/Less if’ changed the tone of the festival as it allowed multiple attendance by removing financial restrictions. People can now go to several shows instead of having to only pick one. We know from audience analysis that the more people attend cultural events, the more likely they are to come back. So anything which increases loyalty is great for deepening relationships with your audiences. It has also started conversations around the festival and created a deeper sense of community.
Outburst was launched in 2006 and their audiences who were loyal since the beginning are now older, with different lifestyles and financial responsibilities. Some of them are now parents, others have a mortgage to pay. New and younger audiences are coming out more. This age group still lives at home and doesn’t have a disposable income. The scheme opened doors to different audience segments.
People do pay more if they can, but not always. The festival’s main goals are to make high quality art and be accessible to the widest range of people as possible. For Outburst, it is a way to balance your organisation’s aims and maximise income. This is why a threshold was added to some events and pre-sales were more prevalent than for other organisations. Some events had tickets available on the door, but for people who wanted to avail of the ‘less if’ option, it was more comfortable and less awkward to pre-book online.
When it comes to translating such a scheme to your ticketing system, it can be time-consuming and sometimes even impossible to set up depending on which your organisation uses. Ticketsolve for example does not have the option to insert a pay-what-you-want option within their platform. But Citizen Ticket, the software Outburst use, does. If your organisation operates across several venues, like Outburst, and you sometimes have to adapt your strategy to one venue’s policy, such as using their own box office, it might not be possible at all.
Tips for NI Organisations
- Analyse the data you already have about your audiences and use this knowledge to create your own scheme.
- The reality is that funding cuts keep coming and a lot of us rely almost entirely on ticket sales. It can then be difficult to consider introducing a pay-what-you-want strategy. In this case, you could start with only a small percentage of your events and track their success compared to the rest of your programme.
- If most of your events never reach full capacity, try a similar initiative for one event to fill those empty seats. Make it part of your marketing plan and see the difference it makes.
- These kinds of actions get people talking and word-of-mouth is one way to reach new audiences. People are more likely to spend a bit of money on something they’ve never heard of before rather than pay the full price.
- Don’t be afraid of charging the people who can afford a full price ticket but make sure it is subsidising for something else.