Edinburgh festivals pull in crowds but earn less

Income from ticket sales is failing to match booming box office figures. Picture: Jane Barlow
Income from ticket sales is failing to match booming box office figures. Picture: Jane Barlow
Share this article
Have your say

Ticket sales across Edinburgh’s festivals have soared almost 5 per cent in the space of a year but the boost is largely driven by cut-price deals and last-minute offers.

An official report on the state of the capital’s flagship events warns that income from ticket sales is failing to match booming box office figures.

All of the city’s major festivals – with the exception of the Mela, which was hit by bad weather – reported increased audiences compared to 2012, when some ticket sales were hit by competition from the London Olympics.

But the new study, based on last summer’s performance of the Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival and the city’s book, film and jazz festivals, also flags up concerns about funding cutbacks.

Edinburgh City Council’s findings state that “challenging economic conditions are resulting in a reduction in the programme investment required to raise income levels”.

Ticket sales at the Edinburgh International Festival were up almost 12 per cent this year compared to 2012, but the average ticket price was understood to be much cheaper, while hundreds of prime seats were given away to schoolchildren.

Overall box office income at the EIF was understood to have been down almost £400,000, although officials said this was partly due to an increase in visual arts events, one of which was free, and “low-cost” film screenings, talks and discussions.

Other events which used ticket offers and saw an increase in attendance were the Fringe, which reported a rise of almost 5 per cent, and the film festival which was up 10 per cent. The jazz festival was up 20 per cent on 2012, while the book festival saw a 6 per cent increase.

The report points out that extra investment in programming and intensive marketing of the 2012 festivals had curbed the impact of competition from the Olympics, with overall ticket sales down just 0.4 per cent.

It adds: “The previous work to deliver the 2012 festivals appears to have had the intended ongoing impact on audiences and reputation – audiences across the 2013 summer festivals increased by 4.9 per cent for ticketed events.

“While it is tempting to measure success purely in terms of attendances and number of shows, it is also important to recognise the festivals’ successful efforts to deliver programmes of quality, that present artistic challenges and variety, appeal to residents and visitors, and help maintain Edinburgh’s international profile as a vibrant cultural destination.”

A spokeswoman for the EIF said: “We are always seeking ways to maximise ticket revenue while ensuring the widest possible access.”

Fringe promoter Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, said: “We do give away tickets every year, but it is very targeted, and we were discounting less this year. You have to protect the value of the art at the Fringe.”

A spokesman for the Fringe added: “It’s impossible for us to say whether there was more or less discounting going on across venues this year.”