Freebies: What are they worth?

We all love a complimentary ticket. To see a show that you may not have been otherwise able to afford, or that you weren’t really sure about shelling out the cash to see in the first place. Either way, you’re sitting in the audience and you haven’t paid a cent.

We all like a freebie. I was walking in Chadstone [Melbourne] the other day and a guy offered me some free ‘male’ face wipes from a new company I hadn’t heard of. So I took them, thinking: “Wow, I’ve just got something for free!”

Sometimes you get the sample packs in the mail – a new toothpaste, a new chewing gum, a new type of nappy… free. The Herald/Sun and The Age often have ‘freebies’ if you buy their weekend papers – recently, some Harry Potter merchandise and a CD for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies.

But what value do we, the consumer, place on something that’s free? Do we regard it only a little better than collectable waste? Or do we actually endeavor to use the free product as a way to discover something new?

As a writer, I like the idea of being able to give something away for free.  I feel like it’s a reward for people who like what I do.  If I’ve come up with a new song for a musical, I like to offer people a demo version to listen to and hear some of the process of writing. I love bonus tracks on a CD – the songs that the artist didn’t think were quite right for the CD but wanted the fans to hear them anyway.

But are we actually reducing the value of what we do by offering free samples?

There’s a couple of schools of thought here:

1) That offering something for free actually reduces the value of the product.
2) That offering something for free helps advertise the product without the consumer having to risk anything.
3) That offering something for free is a way to reward people who are already on board.

But what does any of this have to do with the arts?

Many companies offer complimentary tickets to patrons as a means to bring people into the auditorium who may not normally come: reviewers, dignitaries, and the like. It’s a way of coercing them to attend the show, and hopefully speak well of it in their circles. We all know the power of word-of-mouth, and even more so with the power of social media. If someone on Facebook says something is good, people are likely to check it out. If the aim of comp tickets is to generate publicity, then it certainly has its place.

But it can also backfire. Some people are of the opinion that nothing is for free (not this writer, by the way), and anything that is given for free can’t be worth much, including tickets to a show. Often, it is hypothesised that free tickets are the result of a push to save a show – the show is discussed in a derogative fashion, demeaning the very nature of what you’re trying to make succeed.

And then there are those who simply expect the complimentary tickets, CDs, programs, and the like. There is an expectation that, because certain people are of a higher profile than the standard punter, they deserve the freebie. And if they don’t receive it, then they are immediately against whatever production they didn’t receive one from.

So where does leave the creative person? What’s the answer to the conundrum that is the comp, the freebie, the giveaway?

I don’t know if there is an answer. My best guess is this: if the show/performance/art is good, then it’s worth getting an audience in any way you can. If a comp ticket is going to do that, then do it.

But never, never depreciate the value of what you do by giving it all away.

All art is of worth, if not to someone else, then certainly to you. If you are constantly giving things away, the question is raised as to its true value. I’ve had to come to this realization as well. There is a part of me that wants to offer what I do for free, simply because I want it to be accessible to as many people as possible. But by doing so, what value am I placing on the product in the first place?  When companies (and individuals) have a good reputation, when they offer something for free it actually holds value. The opposite can also be true: if you are offered a freebie from a source that has a poor reputation, then the freebie is worthless.

In the end, perhaps the question shouldn’t be about the value of freebies, but more about the value of you and/or your company’s reputation.

Something to think about. What do YOU think? Post your comments in the box below…

Drew Lane

Andrew “Drew” Lane was born in Melbourne, and began playing piano at the age of four. At age 15, he began to write his own material, and was also introduced to musical theatre via shows such as Starlight Express, Les Miserables and Time. From that moment on, Drew was actively involved in musical theatre at a rehearsal pianist, musical director, or on stage performer. In 1992, Drew composed his first musical for high school, Back Streets, and in 1994, Drew was accepted into the Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts, where he honed his skills, not only as a composer, but also as a performer. Gaining valuable experience on stage and behind the scenes helped him to realise his next musical, Atlantis. A workshop production was staged for the Ballarat Opera Festival in 1996 and gained rave reviews. In the following years, Drew took up teaching but was also able to regularly composer and stage his own productions including Eva’s Wish (1997, Anacortes, WA, USA), Revelations (1998, Touring, Victoria, Australia), and Toys (1999, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia). In 2010, Drew's musical Marking Life was chosen to be part of the Festival of Broadway, hosted by the University of Tasmania, and was performed for Steven Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). A prolific composer, Drew hopes to be able to take his musicals to Off-Broadway or the West End, and believes that his best writing is yet to come. He is presently completing his Master’s degree in Performing Arts, and has several new musicals presently in development. Drew is proud to be a regular contributor to and looks forward to hearing from all of his readers!

Drew Lane

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