Yesterday brought the news that one of the most influential writers about arts marketing had died. Danny Newman, author of Subscribe Now! has been credited with single-handedly creating the arts industry's
obsession with subscriptions. His book, written in 1977, has been a bible for arts marketers since then.
This article from the Chicago Tribune is worth reading.
I think we all owe Mr. Newman a great debt in helping advance the industry. However, I'm not convinced his legacy will hold up in the digital marketing world. In my view, his ideas are quickly becoming outdated.
Quoting from the Trib article:
"Everywhere he went, he talked up the subscription concept. His evangelical rants against 'the slothful, fickle single-ticket buyer' versus 'the saintly season subscriber' became enshrined in legend."
My issue with this concept is that I believe that while subscriptions are fantastic for cultural intuitions they are only fantastic for a segment of consumers. For the institution, you get your money early, you get your tickets sold in advance, and you get some idea of how full the house will be.
However, for the consumer, subscriptions satisfy only a particular kind of personality. Planners and people who value the idea of locking themselves into a schedule love subscriptions. But for folks like me - my lifestyle neither lends itself to a subscription, nor do I want to make those plans that far in advance. To me, a subscription represents only the possibility of having to call and exchange my tickets later. And for many others younger than me, the idea of shelling out hundreds of bucks eight months in advance is just a form of insanity.
The good news is that in today's world, you can love the single ticket buyer as you love the subscriber! You can establish an e-mail relationship with that person at a fraction of the cost of what it took in 1977. And by the end of the season, you may just have sold as many or more tickets to that single ticket buyer as you did to the subscriber.
Single ticket buyers are not slothful - they are just consumers with different needs. It's up to the arts organizations to meet their needs (with flex passes, "make your own series," etc.) rather than to continually force us them behave in a way they don't want to.
So, as we say goodbye to Danny Newman, let's recall his legacy by extolling the virtues of subscriptions. But let's also remember that subscriptions aren't for everyone, and that today single ticket buyers can be marketed to cost-effectively and treated with as much love as subscribers.