Are there too many festivals?

After the sad news that Behind the Castle has been cancelled has the time come where we have reached saturation point?

Sadly Dorset Festival Behind the Castle has been cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

It's a shame as the festival organisers had tried hard to make it a success, as do most, but the simple fact we need to face is that we may well have found the tipping point.

Of course it's true that just like any business venture in a crowded marketplace some will fall by the wayside and it is  a fact that there have been some right dogs that deserve to have been cancelled before they even started up.

Last year we toddled along to some events that were somewhat sparsely attended despite those in charge seemingly doing everything right.

But it is also inescapable that every week seems to bring the announcement of a new 'breakthrough' festival, adding to what many also see as a crowded marketplace.

Some, like Kneedeep and LeeFest have taken the decision to have a hiatus, presumably in the hope that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe the thinking being that the market will re-balance in the meantime.

Others have gone to the wall completely.

Some have decided to specialise by concentrating on a certain genre or demographic marketplace.

Few appear to have reduced their prices though and I'm of the opinion that festival ticket prices are pretty inelastic meaning that if you reduce the price you don't necessarily sell more tickets.

Still others have tied themselves to a complimentary event such as a car rally, steam fair, food festival etc. The Great Dorset Steam fair continues on from strength to strength by combining the traditional gathering of steam enthusiasts with music lovers and devotees of real ale.

Using the benefit of the locale is also handy, with Folk on the Quay proving to be a very popular weekend in Poole and the excellent Purbeck Folk using the glory of the Dorset countryside as a backdrop to a superb festival.

Plus of course there are the ones that seek local authority and charity funding to provide the festival as a community service rather than a money making event.

I can only speak as a dedicated festival punter and for me, I tend to look for events that have a clear focus so that you know what you are going to get (a tribute acts festival, a VDub festival etc.) and I also look for places that don't take themselves too seriously. You can usually tell from the write up.

Some, like Reading and Leeds trade on their 'rite of passage' effect whilst Bestival makes a year long effort to bring a creative element to the event. Organiser Rob da Bank feels that the world record disco ball and world record fancy dress are contributing factors to the increasing attendance at a time when other festivals have struggled.

Nobody wants to see the live music festival movement die and to be honest I think there are too many vested interests in the likes of Reading, Glasto, V and Download for that to happen.

I get a sense that we'll see a market that controls itself with the poorly controlled, badly focused and unfriendly festivals going down the pan, leaving only the top quality ones like your Larmer Tree, your Bestivals and dare I say your Purbeck Folk for the music fan but only time will tell.

At least that's my hope.

Meanwhile lets spare a thought for the organisers who have lost a packet, spent countless hours of their time and emotional energy in what proves in the end to be a fruitless task.

 

UPDATE:

On the same day as I publish this I get something I have never seen before. An email from Groupon offering me discounted tickets to V,T in the park, Calling, Download etc. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't remember those festivals offering any discounts in the past. Is this a sign of low sales? Maybe, or maybe it's just one of the professional ticket touts sorry resellers buying a shed load at a reduced price and offloading them on groupon.

Gunstone gathering - are there too many festivals?
Gunstone gathering - are there too many festivals?

 

Speaking following the news of the cancellation, Behind the Castle organiser Ian Lyster said

This wasn’t an easy decision to make,We are extremely disappointed that the event will not be happening after a very successful opening year.

And you can bet it wasn't.

The likelihood is that they lost a wheelbarrow full of money in deposits and already incurred expenses

So how can a small festival make a splash in what must seem like a sea of competitors?

Partially it's about the approach taken with marketing. Too often nowadays we see businesses using a single channel to reach its market which has proven successful in the past. But the world demographic is changing and any firm that doesn't use social media, traditional print and press and word of mouth techniques is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

Partially it is also about a clear identity. This is where events like Bestival and Larmer score highly with a clear feel that makes people become regulars.

and partially it's about the bands. I say 'partially' because there is significant evidence that headline acts are ratcheting up their fees for festival performances as the market place clamours for the big draw. In fact in a recent chat Bestival organiser Rob da Bank pointed to the rising costs of booking top line artists as a major difficulty for festivals

Ironically, larger, better known festivals are experiencing the opposite. Michael Eavis, founder of Glasto says that actually they don't have to compete as hard because many bands dream of playing the granddaddy of all outdoor events.

But in general the truth is that smaller festivals can't hope to compete on artist bookings in an overheated market place.

Purbeck folk festival - are there too many festivals?

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