Edinburgh Festival Fringe organisers apologise for ditching smartphone app but dismiss demands for rethink

Artists and performers have hit out after it emerged the official smartphone app for this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe had been ditched just weeks before the first shows are staged.

The Fringe Society has issued an apology for its absence, but insists there is no prospect of the decision being reversed in time for the festival’s 75th-anniversary edition in August.

The ditching of the app has emerged after the Fringe Society last month published a new vision pledging the event would offer a "world-class digital experience” in future.

Some performers who have paid up to £400 to register their show with the Fringe Society are demanding a partial refund after the dropping of the app, which was previously sponsored by Virgin Money, emerged over the weekend.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will not have an official smartphone app this year. Picture: Adrian Dennis

The Fringe Society has admitted it had decided against operating an app this year in December due to a lack of available resources.

It insists there is no possibility of “switching it back on” in time for the start of the festival, which will officially launch on August 4.

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Launched more than a decade ago, the official Fringe app has been particularly popular because it allows festival goers to see when and where coming shows are being staged.

A Fringe Society spokeswoman insisted a “nearby now” function would be up and running on the official website by the time the Fringe begins.

Comedian Mark Watson is among the Fringe performers calling for a rethink over a decision to abandon the official smartphone app for the festival. Picture: Matt Crockett

Measures to reduce the Fringe's carbon footprint had been introduced for this year, including an e-ticketing system and cutting the number of printed copies of the official programme by 50 per cent.

Promising a “digital evolution” of the festival, the new Fringe blueprint stated: “Advancing our digital services will mean we are better able to meet artists’ and audiences’ needs.

"It will support us in our sustainability goals, and it will help us remain internationally relevant.

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“Our goal will always be for technology to support and enhance our existing services, not replace them entirely to the exclusion of some groups and communities.

Comedian Fred MacAulay is among the performers who have raised concerns about the scrapping of the official Fringe smartphone app. Picture: Robert Perry

"We pledge to keep in mind those who cannot access digital services as easily as others, and to ensure that digital evolution helps us break barriers, not build new ones.”

Comics Ray Bradshaw, Fred MacAulay, Mark Nelson, Adam Kay, Paul Sinha, Mitch Benn and Mark Watson, broadcaster Richard Osman, comedian, writer and director Rachel Creeger are among those calling for a rethink on the decision not to use an official app this year.

Bradshaw said: “Nothing sums up the insanity of the Fringe more than them getting rid of their app for this year’s festival. They've still charged full registration fee though.”

Tagging the Fringe Society on Twitter, Watson said: “It really is so easy to administer and it’s hugely important to the whole ecology of the Fringe.

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"Lots of people take a punt on a show because it's nearby in 15 minutes and they'd just never have heard about it otherwise.

“And also, pretty essential to acts, especially those with smaller marketing budgets.

"Plus it’s 2022, so running a massive festival without a central app is like if you had the World Cup, but didn’t tell people which grounds the games were at.”

Creeger said: “The ‘nearby now’ function has always proven vital in bringing in audiences, especially to shows without huge PR budgets. To take that away in a year when we're already on a back foot post-pandemic seems cruel.”

Nelson said: “It isn’t a Fringe festival anymore, it is not for everyone. Working-class acts will not be supported. It is for PR machines and agencies to make money. Utterly ridiculous.”

Benn tweeted: “You really, REALLY want to reconsider this. The app has been invaluable to the acts who can’t spend £k’s on ads & PR.

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“The Fringe is only ‘the world’s biggest arts festival’ because the ACTS TURN UP EACH YEAR, at our own expense and effort. If we stop bothering, it’s over.”

Kay said: “A slightly extraordinary decision from the world's biggest arts festival to decommission their app.

"It wasn't perfect, but it was about a hundred times better for buying tickets on the hop than the website.”

Britain’s Got Talent winner and Fringe favourite Lost Voice Guy told his Twitter followers: “A mobile version of a website isn’t the same as an app though? To say it is is just ridiculous.”

Comic Anna Morris posted: “Artists have paid £300-£400 to register and you didn’t think to tell us there is no app? An app really helps us sell tickets and for people to pick shows last minute. I’m pretty appalled.”

MacAulay said: “You can add my voice to those disappointed that there’s no app.”

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A Fringe Society spokeswoman said: “In order to make the Fringe app live in 2022, development would have been required to have begun in December or January, and would have cost at least £100,000 to reactivate and update.

“The app is complex and requires significant development, and extensive testing time to get right. It's not a case of simply 'switching it back on’.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: "We share everyone’s disappointment about the absence of the Fringe app.

"It is worth remembering that Covid restrictions were still affecting the events industry until the end of February.

“The Fringe Society has been in recovery, along with the rest of the sector, still operating with a depleted team and trying to manage limited resources as best possible.

“After two pandemic-affected years running on shoestring budgets, we simply d​id not have the budget required to build and maintain the app this year ​at the point when this work needed to be undertaken in December.

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"I’m sorry this is the situation and can reassure the Fringe community that we have every intention of re-instating the app once our finances are more robust.”

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