Is Edinburgh the Centre of the Universe? The Business CaseDate: 17 August 2010
As editorial director of Whatsonstage.com, I ultimately oversee all the content on the website and write a fair bit of it (news, mainly) but – here’s an admission – I don’t have time to read it all. And I certainly don’t have time to see even a fraction of the shows that we review on the site. I, like you, experience most productions vicariously through my reviewers.
As a result, I often feel like I’m missing out on the grassroots fun, never more so than when Edinburgh rolls around. I’m only just heading up there myself today, having planned our festival coverage for months now and watched the copy streaming in over the past two weeks from our contributors on the ground. (And, haven’t they been doing a great job?!)
I know I’m not the only one who’s been feeling left out down in London. But are we a deluded minority? At my final London opening pre-festival, at Into the Woods last night at the Open Air Theatre, I was chatting to a journalist who writes for the BBC News website, who isn’t going to Edinburgh this year. And, though the BBC website has been covering the festival to an extent, that coverage isn’t getting much traffic. “The thing with Edinburgh,” he said, “is that it feels like the centre of the universe when you’re there. But if you’re not there, you’re not interested.”
It’s not a sentiment I share personally, but I hear where he’s coming from. As a media organisation, making a business case for Edinburgh coverage is exceedingly difficult, especially when your readership is heavily London and South-east concentrated (as ours is). We don’t make any commission on festival tickets and advertising is extremely thin on the ground (most of the theatre shows up there are also operating on a shoestring, and other advertisers genuinely aren’t interested – as per my BBC colleague’s observation) – and that’s how Whatsonstage.com survives.
So not much money coming in from Edinburgh, and yet the costs of setting and running up this microsite and shipping staff north for the month are real and – even adopting the shoestring approach, as we must in all matters year-round – they can add up. In the past, when Whatsonstage.com really was tiny, covering Edinburgh in any sensible way was impossible and economically unfeasible.
But over the past three years, we’ve been ramping up our festival efforts, and with a little more clout and a lot more nous about how we do things, those efforts seem to be paying dividends. We’ll have a full de-brief on all aspects of our Edinburgh campaign next month to decide, as we always must, whether we can afford to commit at the same level in future. I’m pleased to say that the signs are encouraging that Whatsonstage.com readers are interested in Edinburgh and in our coverage of it. Traffic stats this month are – so far, touch wood – up significantly, both on last August and on last month.
As the UK’s leading theatre website, of course, we feel it’s only right that we cover the world’s largest arts festival, on our – sort of – doorstep. Edinburgh may not be the centre of the universe, but it has an undeniable – irresistible – gravitational pull for any true theatre lover. Including me. Less than an hour to go until I pull into Waverley Station. Can’t wait!
(By the way, if you’re in Edinburgh and spot me – my pic is on the Editorial Team page – please do say hello and tell me what you think about Whatsonstage.com’s role at the festival. See you there!)
- Terri Paddock, Editorial Director, Whatsonstage.com
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