We Know You. You Love Music. You also Love to Buy Shit

You’ll probably never see my comments on a newspaper’s website, attached to an article. Primarily, it’s because I like cussing. But also, if you can make your way here, we can discuss the topic ad nauseam. Ah, the virtues of blogging! So I’d like to take this opportunity to comment on, rather than destroy, an article by Philadelphia Inquirer’s Peter Dorbin.

I stumbled on this a few days ago:

Orchestra marketing membership flexibility

In it, Peter outlines a new marketing plan offered by the Philadelphia Orchestra to increase ticket sales. Go figure. Here’s the problem:

In the 1987-88 season, 83 percent of the Philadelphia Orchestra's listeners were subscribers.

Last season the number dropped to 62 percent.

Single-ticket sales have increased at the same time, somewhat. But the reason this trend spells trouble is that ha
ving buyers who commit to six, nine or 12 concerts at a time is extremely cost-efficient.

To sell $300 in seats to a single-ticket buyer, the orchestra spends about $75 in marketing, advertising, postage, printing and other expenses.

Netting a new subscriber who spends $300 for tickets costs the orchestra $90.

But getting a current subscriber to renew shows why the orchestra clings to the subscriber model. Renewals are really cheap, costing the orchestra about $18 to $27.

Fuck. The question is, then, what do they do about it?

The new program is called eZseat. Once you're a member, you can buy a ticket at a 25 percent discount at almost any time - from an hour before a concert to nine months before curtain.

Okay. So its like all those little candies and razors strategically placed at the checkout register of your grocery store: you know, impulse buys. Only, you have to pay a little in advance for the opportunity to buy them at a discount.

Different membership levels carry different benefits. A $50 annual membership allows access to orchestra-level seats in Verizon Hall; $75 for both first-tier box and orchestra-level seats.

Now it’s time for an arithmetic lesson! Yeah!

Okay, it’s nearly impossible to find the prices for single tickets on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website, so, after some rummaging around, I found their subscription brochure (PDF). There I was told that 1) They Know I Love Music and 2) for premium seats—1st tier and orchestra level tickets—a subscription would save me $77.75 per ticket. Then I picked out a nice subscription package, the six-concert Masterworks series, which would cost $466.50. Add $77.75 per concert and that's the price of all six concerts if I wanted to buy them individually: $933! Yuck. Divide by six and viola! Single concert tickets without a subscription discount would cost me $155.50 each. So, by buying the subscription I’d save 50% = $77.75 per subscription ticket after a $77.75 discount!

Back over at eZseat, I’d spend $75 for the opportunity to buy premium seats at any time at a discount of 25% off the price of individual ticket prices. So, if individual ticket prices are $155.50, I’d save $38.88 (roughly) per ticket. Thus, each ticket under the eZseat discount would cost me $116.62.


This means that I’d have to buy tickets to two concerts (roughly) to pay for my eZseat subscription: $38.88 x 2 = $77.76.

=> 2 x $116.62 (the discounted eZseat ticket price) + $75 (eZseat subscription price) = $308.24 for two concerts, which is nearly equal to two tickets ($155.50 x 2 = $311) at full, non-subscription price. So, my savings by purchasing eZseat privileges take effect only after I attend two concerts at regular price.

Thus, if I were to purchase tickets to the additional four concerts at the eZseat price, I’d save 25% off those tickets. This comes to $116.62 x 4, which equals $466. 50, the same price as I would have payed for a regular subscription package. Only, instead of six concerts at at half-off, I’m getting two, plus four regular priced tickets; or if you prefer, that's one free ticket for the price of five regular priced tickets!

That means an eZseat "subscription" plus six concerts costs me $308.24 + $466.50 = roughly $755, or an extra $308 over the price of a regular subscription and only $178 cheaper than if I bought the tickets individually.

Not such a hot deal is it?

The eZseat program was crafted in large part by orchestra marketing chief J. Edward Cambron as a response to increasing resistance to the old subscription model.

"We were looking for how to find a new way to get people to go regularly, as if they were subscribers, but not have the problems subscriptions have, because subscriptions are not the future," Cambron said.

This is batshit crazy people. Subscriptions are the better deal. The only cool thing about eZseat is that there is flexibility—you get to chose which concerts you go to.

But between you and me, every concert is the same. And a Tchaik-Tchaik here and a Rach-Rach there. Here a Tchaik. There a Rach. Everywhere an oink-oink. Old MacDonald had a farm...

It seems strange, perhaps, that in a town known for its sports-loserdom, that more people wouldn’t want to go to the symphony, where it’s a win-win every time.

"They want to go when they want to go, and you risk people not going because they either don't feel like they belong or can't get the kind of access to concerts they want. This program gives them a guarantee in a way."

"Surprise, Honey!"

"Wow, thanks. I always wanted diarrhea." (cover by: Ninja Freaks)

But having it your way comes at a higher price. Buyer beware!

Perhaps, the old-school subscription-phobia is not the problem. Commenter Constant Reader adds her/his two cents:

I think that the orchestra is obliquely noting the major problem: the concerts are now just over-supplied commodies [sic]. When the supply of a commodity--whether SUVs, last-season's clothes, or unsold bread--outstrips supply, the easy solution is to cut price to a point where purchase becomes desirable. A more difficult solution would be to remove the stigma of commodity. That comes from either dramatic improvement in the product's perceived value: from scarcity, exceptional quality or both. Put simply, the Philadelphia Orchestra performs far more often than demand in 2008 dictates. The supply far outstrips demand. The concerts are rarely special events, and the customer realizes this. The real response should be to consider reducing the number of concerts, and perhaps the length of orchestra's season. As for the canard about a 52-week season being essential to quality, consider that in the glory days of Stokowski the orchestra performed for a half-year or less.

Mmmmm. Saturated fats. You can have it your way, right away!


anzu said...

Your comments are acting funny, b/c I tried to leave a comment for another post, though I don't remember what snarky thing I had to say. :-P

Your math is giving me headaches, so I'll just take your word for it that what you say is how it is.

As for subscriptions, I wrote about this a while back, but I'm one of those don't-do-subscriptions types as well (though I might break down and change my mind, b/c the SF Performances had a lot of interesting concerts).

I did one subscription to Opera San Jose back in the day, but it was because the price point was low enough that even for someone earning 35K or 40K or whatever I was earning, it was doable. However, I had a nazi lady who heckled me every week/month, so after that, I've done away with subscriptions.

There is always going to be a demand for concerts, but I think that nowadays, it's hard to get people to subscribe--or at least this is the case w/ people of my generation. We just don't want to commit to that many concerts.

Empiricus said...

Yeah, the comments are probably going to be doing funny things for a spell. Blogger is doing some renovations, so...good luck.

Re: eZseat

I find it odd that eZseat is geared for those already interested and already committed (if only in mind) to buying some tickets. It seems that this is a cheap way of tricking the marginally interested people into forgetting that they have a cheap "pseudo-subscription," but no actual tickets. Whee! A free $75 for the orchestra! Besides, Peter didn't go into this but, I wonder: how much did promoting, developing and implementing eZeat cost the orchestra? How long before it pays for itself? Interesting bits of information that I'd like to know.

It seems that there is no real benefit except being able to chose which concerts to attend. But even then, it's not saving you much money. Let's be frank. It's not a marketing strategy; that sounds too quaint. Let's call it what it is: it's advertising subterfuge.

It's like buying razors: "Buy seven blades, get an eighth blade for free!" When really you're just paying a little less for for all eight. But they're increasing the probability that you'll buy 'em.

On the other hand anzu, if 52 concerts a year aren't drawing enough interest, does it make sense to have that many? For the musicians' sake, sure. But I can only take so much Ravel, you know.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps at some point an orchestra could be sustained by doing not fewer concerts, but more varied kinds of concerts geared to different audiences. The problem isn't too many concert per se, but too many concert with the same venue, the same core 19th C. rep, the same overture-concerto-symphony format, the same, yadda yadda. Smaller ensembles that would be different music (newer/older) in run out concerts to alternative venues perhaps.. I don't know what exactly it would look like, but I am sure at some point that kind of model could gain some traction. Isn't this the era of the great shattering of The Music Industry (be it classical / pop / whatever) into smaller but more passionate sub-genres? Maybe it hasn't hit the orchestral world yet, but I could see something in future that might be workable...

Erik Loomis said...

I really want that funk album cover.