Should the West End supply free programmes at shows?

Last month I went to the National Theatre to see a production of Peter Pan. On the way in to the auditorium I noticed a leaflet holder on the wall, with cast lists in it, for people to take as they walk in. It gave details of who was performing in the show as well as performances dates, times and some other notable information about the company. I thought this was a great idea and wondered why more theatre’s don’t do this (I mean we pay enough for the tickets, surely it’s the least they can do).

On Broadway, every audience member gets given a Playbill when they enter the auditorium. This is really just a glorified cast list, padded out with adverts to make up a little booklet. These are given out for free (unlike in the U.K. Where we have to pay for a programme) and can serve as a memento of the show you have been to see. Now, on Broadway theatre tickets are actually quite a lot more expensive than the West End (if you can believe that) and so you could argue that the cost of a Playbill is maybe factored into the ticket price. I’m sure it isn’t though.

The hilarious thing about Playbills and theatre programmes is the amount of money a company will earn out of advertising from one of these booklets. To place an advert in a theatre programme is probably thousands of pounds (I’m guessing) and when you think about how many adverts you see in these things, it is easy to imaging how much money is earned from these. So why the need to charge people even more money to have one? Why can’t we just give them out for free in London like the do in New York? Are we just being greedy?

How many people in the U.K. Will actually buy a programme? Maybe 1/3? That’s my guess. So can you imagine how much more theatre’s could charge their advertisers if they could guarantee three times as many people seeing the advert (if programmes were given to everyone for free)? Surely it would be a win-win situation where theatre’s can earn more money from advertising and audience members can be given a free programme.

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