Hop on the Goldstar Poverty Train
Sustainability has always been a struggle for theatre companies, regardless of their size. The threats to long life as a company, are constantly evolving. Ten years ago, who would have thought “instant entertainment” in the form of downloadable movies and music would be an obstacle to filling our seats? Goldstar’s role in our eco system has also evolved. Initially, the half-price giant was largely positive—allowing companies to reach out to new audiences and fill empty chairs. But as they’ve become one of the primary ways that people purchase tickets—and as they’ve evolved from a “half-price” vendor to a “half price… or maybe we’ll just give away our inventory because we’re desperate” huckster, their effect on sustainability has become perilous.
Take their recent “Comp Train” campaign. While companies are faced with increased economic hazards—from a weak financial system to the lure of instant, nearly free entertainment—Goldstar decided the remedy was a special “comp” ticket giveaway. I place “comp” in quotes because companies are providing comps, but Goldstar is selling them at a mark-up higher than what they’d normally get for the ticket. It’s not enough that companies can, at any given moment, decide to sell comp tickets; no, Goldstar has now created a special event to do so, pitting those companies who already offer 50% off tickets against those willing to drink the Cool Aide financially.
Goldstar will say that they’re simply encouraging new sales and opportunities for these companies: people who might not normally see your show will. This is wholly disingenuous. The lure for companies isn’t new customers or relief from an empty house, and Goldstar knows it. The reason to contribute comp tickets is so to raise your position on the weekly email blast, and the possibility of being named a “hot ticket” in their second, weekly email. This puts companies in the position of not competing for customers, or awareness, but for preferential treatment by Goldstar. Give us freebies and we’ll work a little harder for you. In other situations, this would be called a bribe.
I don’t like to “complain” without providing solutions, so I’ll offer some. First for Goldstar: stop doing these ridiculous comp train promotions and discourage the use of comp tickets through you. Second, stop ordering the events in your email by popularity; randomize them. Customer reviews are sufficient for buyers interested in popularity—promote all shows equally. And finally, stop re-writing event descriptions. It homogenizes them and you aren’t as familiar with the show as the promoter is, nor have you spent as much time considering how to market it...and frankly, you’re not that good at writing copy.
What can companies do? First, demand these changes if you agree with them. How do you demand? Simply: talk about it—to Goldstar, amongst yourselves, and your customers. And second, never stop diversifying your audience base. Performance arts are ultimately about community. Even Broadway shows are somewhat based on this dynamics of community: The Lion King has a position in the community, in people’s minds, and there is a certain type of person that goes to the show. Goldstar’s system discourages community building. You don’t get their contact info; they don’t find your show through your website; they don’t leave their feedback with you, but with Goldstar. You need to build your own.