Culture on a budget at pay-what-you-can book festival

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Hearing from some of the world’s best-selling authors may have been beyond reach for those festival goers operating on a shoestring budget in the past – but not any more.

People attending this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival will be asked to pay only what they can afford for some events as organisers try to open the showcase up to those on tight budgets.

While most events will still cost around £12, the festival has designated 20 as “pay what you can”, potentially allowing some people to see their favourite authors for free.

The events include conversations with restaurateur and Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith, comedian Eddie Izzard and former footballer Mark Walters.

Audience members attending the events can choose to pay anything they want between nothing and £25.

Organisers will urge those with bigger budgets to consider contributing more than usual.

Their aim is to make the festival, which begins in Charlotte Square Gardens on 10 August and runs for more than a fortnight, more “accessible for those with limited means”.

The idea was piloted last year for a handful of events, but this is the first time a significant number of tickets for the annual festival will be sold using a variable pricing structure.

A spokeswoman said last year’s scheme resulted in some people attending who had “never visited” the festival before, with other audience members voluntarily paying more than the standard price.

Other pay-what-you-can events at this year’s festival include audiences with crime novelist Ian Rankin, food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe and Danish comedian Sofie Hagen.

Sophie Moxon, the festival’s executive director, said the plan was part of a wider initiative to make it as “welcoming and accessible” as possible.

“We recognise communities in and around the city may have barriers to access, including financial barriers, and we hope pay-what-you-can pricing will encourage people to give the festival a try,” she said.

“We ask our regular ticket buyers to honestly consider their financial circumstances when choosing what to pay.

“Their support will allow this scheme to benefit others and enable us to continue pay what you can in future years.

“This is just one of the initiatives that we are introducing to increase equality of access to the festival.”

The payment model has become increasingly popular at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with many performers believing they can pull in bigger audiences than by using a single ticket price.

There are 404 “pay-what-you-want” shows listed in this year’s Fringe programme, compared with only 260 last year.

There are also 706 free shows, with audiences encouraged to make donations.

Other initiatives to make this year’s book festival more accessible including doubling the number of captioned and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted events, improving wheelchair accessibility and creating special events for children and adults with learning disabilities. An online film will also now offer guidance to those who are ‘nervous’ about attending the Scottish capital’s book festival for the first time.