So, I don’t mention this enough on this blog, but currently in addition to writing plays and running a theater company I have a small internet startup called BuyPlayTix. One of the things I’m really trying to do with the software is start to build a way to analyze your audience and budget the way a for-profit business would. Granted, I’m no where near where I want to be with this, but the small amount I’ve built has provided some useful results.
The one thing that works is our BoxOffice software and Box Office reports. You enter all you ticket sales into the Box Office and you can look at some aggregate statistics in the report. I know this sounds ridiculously basic, but I would contend that most theater companies in Austin do not know what their average audience size is, or what percentage of tickets they sell at what price points.
On our last show, like many companies, we needed to come up with a ticket price. We’d already created a budget, which is based on historical averages and what we know things cost. Julie does a fantastic job with this and we’re never off by more than 10%. But when it came time to decide on a ticket price we just said $15. I guess because that seems fair? Or something. Market rate? Out of curiosity I decided to go back and look at our average size. I took our average paid tickets multipled by 15 and realized we couldn’t pay our rent if we charged $15 per seat. So we went with $18. And we had our standard house size, so we didn’t loose large numbers of our audience due to the cost increase. And we made our money back.
Which brings me to my main point. One of the main things that I’ve been reading are people complaining about not being able to make a living off of the arts. But how exactly are we supposed to do that if we’re just making up ticket prices that seem fair? How do we arrive at fair? The large regional theaters in town charge $30/ticket. Which is double what we think is fair. And you know what the kicker is? They’re heavily subsidized. So you’re really competing with a company that should be charging $60-100 per ticket. No wonder we’re having trouble competing. We’re pretending we can do the same amount of work for 1/4 of the pay.
I think we need to start committing to fair ticket prices, and knowing what that is. In version 4.0 of BuyPlayTix I’m going to have the ability to manually enter BoxOffice data for people who still take tickets the traditional way. I think it’ll be really interesting to see what ticket prices do if companies actually know what they have to charge to make money.
I think Pay-What-You can nights can provide for people who can’t afford high ticket prices, and we’re not doing anyone a favor by offering ridiculously cheap tickets to people who can afford to see touring musicals.