Monday, August 24, 2009

The rise of 'Free' at the Edinburgh Fringe

I've just returned from a few days in Edinburgh, watching shows at the annual Fringe Festival, and generally enjoying the atmosphere and the vibe. It's easily my favourite UK festival.

One thing that I noticed this year was that the Fringe has effectively evolved into a 3 tier pricing model. It's a nice example of 'Free' as a naturally evolved business model.

First, you get the premium shows, generally featuring acts you'd see on TV, or theatre shows from established companies. An example of this is the unofficial Comedy Festival that is a collaboration nbetween the 4 main venues. Typically tickets were £10 for a 50 minute show.

Next, you get the Five Pound Fringe. These are less established acts, geerally performing in well-equipped venues. Again the shows last about 50 minutes, and for a fiver people are willing to check out new talent.

Finally, you get the Free Fringe, or in fact two different versions, the Peter Buckley Hill one and the Laughing Horse one. All shows are free to watch, and the acts don't need to pay for the venues. Venues make money from selling drinks to the audience, and the acts gain valuable exposure and pass around a bucket at the end for donations. Acts get a far bigger audience than they would otherwise - most of the shows were full - and get to make spending money.

Generally speaking all acts lose money in Edinburgh, but those on the Free Festival probably lose less, and have less admin (paying for venues, ticketing, splitting the box office, taxes etc) and thus enjoy it more. It's not a perfect analogy for the digital world, as it's only a short festival rather than a year-round thing, but it shows Free as a natural evolution.

I saw 5 free shows, and all were excellent. Check them out if you have a chance:

Iona Dudley Ward - character comedy
Peter Buckley Hill - Standup
Kunt and the Gang - very rude songs - has to be seen to be believed
The Peculiar River - Dark musical theatre from the Alchemy Troupe
Goldenanorak Unzipped - standup and sketches

See also - my review of Free by Chris Anderson.


The Free Fringe said...

Actually, there's only one Free Fringe. The Free Fringe Ltd is the company that owns the name, and I and my members own the company. I believe the Laughing Horse's effort is called "free festival".

Glad you enjoyed our shows


Peter Buckley Hill

Dan said...

Quite right, sir.

I stand corrected!

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