(image: theater jeusette by [AndreasS] Some rights reserved)

Should more theatres adopt the pay-what-you-want approach?

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The state of theatre in the UK is quite varied depending on where you look. The capital’s West End has been doing pretty well in terms of attendance over the last decade, but London’s smaller theatres and others around the country aren’t.

So it’s no surprise that theatres are looking for new ways to increase their audience. Recently ARC in Stockton employed a pay-what-you-want scheme for one of their productions. They’re not the first do it and they’re unlikely to be the last.

What is it?
The pay-what-you-want system is pretty self-explanatory. Rather than there being a posted price for a product customers choose how much they want to pay. If they think a play was worth £5, that’s what they pay. Some theatres might consider implementing a minimum payment.

There’s a similar system called pay-what-you-can as well. In this case rather than paying for the value of something, customers pay what they’re able to.

Does it work?
There’s no simple answer to this. In the case of ARC above, the average price paid for the show was £5.25 compared to the £10 they would usually charge. Although this was more than they expected, shouldn’t this be considered a failure?

Not necessarily, if increased profit isn’t you aim. If bigger audiences are what you’re after then PWYW can work. With a new play getting people to go isn’t just about convincing them to part with £10, it’s about convincing them to part with that £10 on a gamble.

Having a system where they ascribe their own value removes that issue and gets them in the theatre. Not only can this increase numbers – helpfully off-putting some of the lost money from lower ticket prices – but could encourage people to come back again or recommend it to a friend, possibly to a production with a full price ticket.

What are the options?
Research has been done into the behaviour of consumers using PWYW, and there is some insight to be gained to improve the model.

It’s been shown that people will pay more when some of the money will go to a charitable cause. This is one option, but if we’re talking about the theatre, it might be worth putting the spotlight on the participants in the play itself. Making it clear where the money goes, i.e to pay performers properly, might help to up the amount people will choose to part with.

The same research also showed that if people think they won’t be able to pay the ‘appropriate’ amount then they’ll pass on the whole thing to avoid feeling guilty.

Perhaps a balance can be struck, with the first week of performances sold as PWYW followed by a full price once attendance grows. PWYW could be used a way to bolster dwindling audiences or get the word out about a new production.


About the author: Lover of world cultures, art, languages, food, and entertainment, Amanda Marshall is a lifestyle and arts writer born and based in London


(image: theater jeusette by [AndreasS] Some rights reserved)

Amanda Marshall

Lover of world cultures, art, languages, food, and entertainment, Amanda Marshall is a lifestyle and arts writer born and based in London

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