I’ve recently started reading Danny Newman’s seminal “Subscribe Now”, the book that essentially defined the business model for non-profit culturals in the back half of the 20th century. Newman is sort of like a revivalist preacher proclaiming the wonders of “DSP”, aka “Dynamic Subscription Promotion”, advocating loudly and forcefully for the power of subscription in the American cultural.
He has the numbers to justify his excitement for subscription, at one point (I believe in the foreword) it’s noted that he sold several thousand subscriptions for a theatre company that hadn’t even opened its doors yet. Impressive.
But my initial impressions of Newman’s DSP technique (not necessarily of subscription in general, though I’ll get to that) is that it’s nothing surprising or earth-shattering. The stories he’s telling are of companies who had subscription plans (or didn’t) and just had no concept of how to properly promote them. What a surprise then, that when he came in and appropriately marketed for these groups, their subscription sales substantially increased.
He clearly states that the problem was not in the subscriptions, but in the marketing (and administration). And certainly he was proven right. As I mentioned previously, his methods were the most important cornerstone in a theatre’s business model as regional/resident theatres began appearing in the late 50s and 60s.
But is it relevant today? Are subscriptions as important to theatre today as they have been over the past 50 years? According to the TCG’s 2009 Theatre Facts publication (PDF link) subscription sales are at a five year low, and it seems to me that the trend is likely to continue.
Why? The same reasons Newman encountered, I suspect, form the base of the problem. Old patrons who grew up with the resident theatres are aging rapidly, dying, and leaving behind subscriptions. It’s morbid, yes – but I suspect it’s the prime cause of subscription drops. But that generation is giving way to a new generation (mine) which is severely different. The subscription model doesn’t work for “us” because we have different expectations – we are the on-demand generation.
[OOH CLIFFHANGER! I’ll continue the rest at some other point in my life. Stay tuned…]