Each year, hundreds of thousands of people take to the Royal Mile and the surrounding streets of Edinburgh to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Throughout the month of August they are entertained and inspired by the wide array of acts, ranging from the weirdly amazing to the wonderfully hilarious, that come from all over the world, eager to show off their skills in the hope of becoming the next artist to take their starting block from the Scottish capital. But how much does Edinburgh really have to gain from its greatest festival? And to what extent is London the real capital to gain from this world-renowned event?
Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is, for many, so much more than simply turning up with a guitar and playing a few tunes. It takes lots of planning and, perhaps surprisingly, a lot of money from the artist’s own pocket. Even those acts enjoyed by everyone for free have to apply for a busker’s license in order to perform. This year this was free to do, but in previous years performers have had to pay a fee – in 2013 this was £30 and that’s not including transport, accommodation and food for those travelling from afar. Suddenly that tenner you gave that man to juggle seems a lot more worth it!
But what about the ticketed shows, the ones you have to pay to get into? Surely these performers make a profit no problem; after all they are charging £9 a ticket to perform nearly every day. In fact, all of the ‘Big Four’ Fringe companies, the Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilded Balloon and Assembly take either 40% of final Box Office sales or a minimum guarantee (calculated by the amount of revenue they expect the audience to bring) whichever is more expensive, as a commission charge for venue hire costs. Of this they are expected to pay a deposit, which is 20% of the minimum guarantee, upfront.
As if that weren’t enough money to have to fork out before the Fringe has even started, acts are also required to pay £500 (+VAT) to be included in the joint fringe guide that all four companies are a part of. Granted, this is really the only way acts can be sure to sell tickets as this brochure is distributed throughout Edinburgh and the surrounding area, but £500 is a lot to pay before the tickets have even been printed. Similarly, inclusion in the Fringe Society’s brochure is also beneficial when it comes to selling tickets but will set acts back up to £328 (+VAT) and for those wanting to sell tickets through the Fringe Society’s Box Office: they take 3-4% of all ticket sales, similar to the amount also taken by the ‘Big Four’ for sales through their Box Offices. Those looking to join the Pleasance during the Fringe also have the added cost of 8p for every ticket printed.
And, of course, that isn’t all that the acts will have to take into consideration. They have to think about the cost of hiring technical equipment from the companies and the rights to any music or other work that they may be using. But this is all good right? These acts are coming to Scotland and giving our economy, or the economy of Edinburgh at least, a little boost, right? Wrong.
Whilst all of these four companies had their beginnings in Edinburgh, like many of the famous comedians and acts that they have hosted over the years, they have moved onwards and upwards. Now, although they have offices in Edinburgh, the Pleasance, Underbelly and Assembly all have their main offices in London and so once they leave Edinburgh in August, they just take all that money with them. Only Gilded Balloon is now based solely in Edinburgh.
However, all is not lost. As mentioned at the start of the article the Edinburgh Fringe attracts thousands of visitors from across the world every year and is constantly growing. So whilst the money coming directly from the companies may not stay in Edinburgh, the vast tourism the Fringe brings certainly does and that can only be a positive thing.
Image: Pound coins © William Warby (wwarby, flickr)