Ticket pricing explored – Part I

Arts centres appear to be leading the way in experimenting with innovative pricing models. In the first of two articles exploring pricing, we asked Dan Eastmond from The Firestation in Windsor to tell us about his dynamic pricing project.

Just over 12 months ago, we launched a brand new dynamic ticketing experiment at The Firestation (the Neo-Ticketing project), powered by Monad ticketing software (we don’t call it ‘box office’ anymore) and supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

Dynamic Pricing is not a new idea and there are a fair few methods to choose from, but after considering what was most measurable and most likely to be used by other organisations we settled on three schemes; Rising Prices – where the ticket price goes up steadily over time, Moving Prices – where prices go up or down automatically depending on demand, and Price Crash – where prices are discounted by 75% for half an hour, with customer notification via our social networks.

Eight or so months after our first telephone conversations – and three rounds of applications later – the first phase of the project went live, and everything about how we book and sell events changed. Our conversations with artists, companies and agents became richer, more frequent and more sophisticated. We began talking about price entry points, selling timeframes, market breakdowns and whole tour structures (you have to if your prices move about and you’re the only one on a twenty date tour doing it!). In the office, pricing conversations stretched out over the life of a show, instead of the normal ten minute chat before the programme goes to print. We had a record of our early predictions to measure sales against, we had live volume and price data to explore and, quite simply, we became more proactive and better equipped.

The results of the project are interesting. In short (you’re best off reading the full report, but…) the modest (+/-25%) Rising Prices scheme generated the same volume of sales but with a 10% increase in overall revenues. Sales also shifted slightly earlier. The bigger rises (+/-50%) ended up restricting sales volume more than the benefit in higher prices later on. Moving Prices just didn’t work, lower than expected demand compressed our ticket prices and resulted in lower revenues. We may be able to solve this by fine tuning the sales curves, and are looking again at our traditional sales patterns for different types of event. Price Crash, weirdly, resulted in no extra sales, but again this may be due to the timeframe being too short, or perhaps our customers needing time to get the hang of it. It does give us another marketing tool for free though, so we’re still working with this.

Perhaps most exciting of all though was that the process of attributing value to our activities no longer happened in secret, a best guess taken some time in the past. Now, the ticket price would move up or down depending on how our customers behaved, it would float on top of their enthusiasm (or lack of) and therefore reflect how they felt, not how we thought they should feel. Our customers were invited into the ongoing conversation about value and sustainability in the culture sector, sometimes by polls and questionnaires, sometimes by feeding back to us, but unavoidably in the act of buying a ticket – where the core price, current price and ranges were clearly displayed.

As arts organisations around the UK navigate changing cultural forms and ever shifting political agendas, modernising our processes alongside deep, deep structural reform are essential if we are move forward as a healthy and relevant part of society. Changing how we price events is one tiny piece in this great volume of work. Keeping up with digital trends, re-imagining the role of the physical venue, asking whose culture we are championing, following ideas rather than form, are all right there in the mix too.

When we launched the Neo-Ticketing project my hope (unscientific I know) was that all three models with generate astonishing results, show the way to better revenues across the board and initiate – even just for us – a pricing revolution. In the end that didn’t happen, but I guess one out of three isn’t such a bad hit rate. Then again, sometimes just getting out there and doing things differently sets the conditions for the future we’re all chasing.

Dan Eastmond
Managing Director
The Firestation, Windsor