Monday, February 28, 2005

Online ticketing - parameters refined

So let's revisit the simplest ticketing solution discussion. First, I'm judging by the previous great comments that there are larger pieces to this puzzle I am missing: integrating the ticketing solution with a particular show's... gestalt? ("Promotion" doesn't seem to quite capture everything that happens to make a show successful.) In any case, any type of integration - be it tracking how well online (and even offline) promotion is working, or integrating the patron data with fundraising systems - is another layer I need to defer reviewing at this stage.

For this discussion - still in its nascent form - I want to stick to really simple systems, based on the size and scope of several theatre and dance companies I have worked with who generally do not offer tickets online, only by phone-in reservation.

My (expanded) parameters for the ticket systems is then:
  • Organizations that have a performance location of a fixed number of seats (of their own, or that they typically rent on a regular basis)
  • About 60-100 seats
  • General admission tickets
Let me repeat - there are a ton of ASPs out there that offer these services. I'm looking at ones that will enable an organization to jump in quickly (and cheaply). In that vein, for this phase of the discussion - I am not looking at services that require you set up a separate merchant account. I want a service that will send you a check once you're done.....

So far, most of the ticketing services I've researched offer a series of standard services:
  • Online, secure credit card purchases
  • Real-time inventory (but this may not be your total seat count - see discussion below)
  • Detailed patron information report: contact info; contact preferences (e.g. the checkbox for "Send me more info about your org"); purchase history; purchasing updates / reports available online and via email
  • Booking stop times - a specific time when online booking is no longer available, so as to avoid conflict with day-of sales at the box office
  • Events are set up per day - and you copy / paste the settings through the run of your show.

Services differ on what, how and how much they provide of the following:
  • Service fee per transaction (usually depends on your volume and ticket price)
  • Whether you can include that fee in the ticket costs, charge some to the patron or are required to pass it on to the patron
  • Setup fees (varies typically depending on how much you want / can customize your ticket page)
  • The amount of customization and "branding" you can add to ticket-buying pages
  • Availability and cost of phone-based ticket-purchasing services
  • Actual ticket printing and mailing, versus just "will-call" lists
  • Additional services beyond the scope of what we are talking about here (venue mapping for reserved seat, multiple-ticket-price venues; direct payment via merchant account, etc).

Finally, a note about how to begin incorporating this kind of system into your current sales practice. Many theatres that do not have a completely integrated online vs. in-the-office ticket system only allot a portion of their available seats to an online ticket system - typically between 20%-50% of their total seats. This reduces the risk of overselling a show on two different systems (online and through the performing space box office).

If nothing else, that's good info to know if you ever want to see a show, and the online ticket site says it's sold out.... Call the box office.

I'll have some more details about a couple other "easy-entry" services within the week.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A help-desk for arts organizations

The main reason I called Neville at the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (see previous post) was to ask him about their new help desk project - "TechConnection for the Arts".

In brief, the service is this:
Arts staff can call a toll-free number 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week for access to professional and immediate technology support - over the phone.

The service is available to any nonprofit arts and cultural organization in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

The annual fee is $50 for orgs with 1-5 staff members up to $150 for orgs with 16-25 staff members (with further rates available for larger organizations).
In a word - wow. That's awesome. Every staffperson has access to call a tech person over the phone, all for the annual organizational fee of $50-$150. That seems like a great deal - and I wanted to know how it was possible, and how it's working out.
(For what it's worth, a similar thing is offered in Dallas. Let me know if you know of others elsewhere.)
Neville said they were lucky to find a partner in the business community that was looking to turn part of its mission - serving the needs of the community - into reality. In return, this established tech organization was hoping to raise its profile in their home in Philly, where it was still relativley obscure.

The company, CAI, had an established phone-based help-desk operation already underway. They agreed to offer help-desk "bandwidth" as their investment in the community and their tool for increasing visibility. The ABC took on the logistical and administrative side of registering new arts organizations and training users.

Training users? Neville said one of the biggest challenges has been convincing people to use the service once they've signed up. The three biggest barriers seem to be:
  • Habit. It's difficult to get people to change their habits purely by giving them information; they need to retrain themselves - for example to not go to whoever helped them the last time, and instead call the tech support number.
  • Fear. Have you ever had someone troubleshoot a computer problem over the phone? It can be clunky and challenging, and you spend a lot of time making sure both people are on the same page before getting to the heart of the matter.... And now imagine you're in that situation, but you're afraid of technology. It can be fairly intimidating. So even though it works, it's not the same as...
  • Delegation. The person down the hall may not know as much as the techie on the phone, but in my experience people tend to prefer having someone else deal with challenges than learning it for themselves - which is what's happening when they are walked through a troubleshooting process on the phone.
So the ABC provides an orientation in how the process works; what to expect; and and what cannot be addressed by this service. In addition, they do all the outreach to arts organzitions, and transmit information about new enrollment to CAI for their database. Currently, they are supporting about 50 arts orgs, representing about 500 individual staff; ultimately, they hope to double or triple that amount. Finally, the ABC also helps provide opportunities for CAI to raise their profile - certainly through the press coverage of this new service, as well as business-to-business introductions, etc.

Amazingly, the ABC and CAI went from zero to pilot to "live" in about a year; Neville estimates he spent 20% of his time over the course of the year on this project, and it involved several players form both the ABC abnd CAI, as well as a couple of consultants who helped shepherd the process along. And it's not like they convinced CAI to offer this service, then posted a bunch of phone numbers, leaned back and watched the tech support tickers start rolling. The ABC spends time and money and other resources on this project, ensuring it continues to work smoothly, promoting enrollment - and perhaps more importantly, promoting usage.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia

Started originally in the early 80s as a economic (and professional) development program, the ABC responded to a growing need for tech support in 2001 by starting the Tech Connectors program. Neville Vakharia has developed an impressive program in these last 4 years, and when I met him at NTEN last year, he was just entering the pilot phase of their help-desk project, which has now gone live. I just talked to him about that project, and I'll post more on the details next time, but first I wanted to recap what's happening in Philadelphia.

Neville said there are about 800 arts and culture nonprofit organizations in the Greater Philly area, accounting for about 1,200 jobs. He guesstimates that 75% of these organizations have budgets of $250k-$500k or smaller, and many are somewhat behind their other nonprofit peers when it comes to technology. This mirrors my personal experience working with a wide range of nonprofits in the Bay Area.

He also offered an interesting opinion why that may be the case (I'm paraphrasing and embellishing here): While smaller organizations tend to have less - or no - on-staff tech support, the real issue may be that arts organizations typically do not have the same reporting needs that, for example, health and human service organizations do (this is also a function of size). In a social service nonprofit, the reporting database is your life - and usually the development director (if no one else) becomes the de-facto tech support person, because they have a vested interest in making sure the database stays alive. In an arts organization, it's the show that is paramount - I've seen a couple of arts organizations throw up their hands when they lose their entire contact database, but hey, they have a show to produce - a show that generates dollars.

I'm not saying arts organizations don't have reporting needs or don't take their fundraising systems seriously - and Neville was not suggesting that either. But when the central technology system in an arts organization is not quite as critical to the day to day operations as it is in other nonprofits, there is no critical driving force - and person - to advocate for technology.

Just a theory, but it sounded good to me.

Arts and Technology at NTC

In case you didn't know, NTEN is a national network of organizations and individuals who work in, on and around nonprofit technology. Every year they host a national conference (along with several regional ones) covering a wide gamut of topics. One of the great things about these conferences is that even if you don't get to one personally, all the materials are posted online. (Of course, what's online is really ultimately dependent on the session presenter and format, and not NTEN).

So while I am not going to Chicago this year, I am keenly interested in seeing if they post the materials for this presentation: "Developing a Web-Based Resource Network for an Arts Community"

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Online Studies: Arts and Technology

In case you haven't heard about it or seen it, this Pew Internet study that came out at the end of last year is pretty interesting:
They [artists and musicians] have embraced the internet as a tool that helps them create, promote, and sell their work. However, they are divided about the impact and importance of free file-sharing and other copyright issues.
A previous report from NPower also included a series of case studies highlighting how different arts organizations use technology (not just the Internet) - first link on the page downloads a PDF report.

Ticketing Solution Part I: Acteva?

Refering to our "simplest ticketing solution" rules, I'll start with the most obvious service provider - or is it obvious? I never imagined that Acteva would be simple - and cheap - but I had heard a colleague once refer to them as "free and easy" and I was curious.

Acteva has absolutely no start-up fees - instead, it charges a fee based on the per ticket transaction ($1.50 for ticket prices less than $15, and then $1.50 plus 4.5% of the ticket price (credit card fees) for ticket prices above $15 - unfortunately, this information is not available unless you register or contact a sales rep....). You can decide whether your organization wants to pay the service fees, or pass that charge on to your patrons.

A fuller, albeit year-old, review of the system by another great "technology for nonprofits" organization is here.

One nice feature about Acteva is that you never need to front the money - Acteva will deduct the fees from the check it sends to you. So if you're a small company, you don't even need to set up an online merchant account.

Some other notes:
  • Every single day of a performance has to be set up as a separate entry (otherwise, you end up with general seating tickets over the span of all of your shows). However, it's fairly easy to copy an event, then change the dates.
  • You can check the status of up-to-the-minute (?) ticket sales online. You can even set up the event to stop selling online tickets at a certain time (great to avoid having seats sold online after you checked that one "last time"...).
  • Refund requests tend to make their way slowly through the system - only because people typically contact Acteva, who then have to contact the event organizers.
  • You can set up "free" events.... And since there is no start-up fee, you can essentially set up your organization profile and do a test run without incurring any costs.

At least, I think so. That's what I've done, and I'm waiting to see what happens. It took me about 15 minutes, but I was playing around with all the options (there are quite a few, but most of them are fairly obvious).

Typically, I would have event listed under a URL of my choice:

But to avoid having this "freebie" event listed on Acteva's general site, I made it private, so instead, I have a "private" link to my event. Go ahead and register - just remember, the "event" is nothing else then you reading this blog then registering, adn me finding out that you registered.... How is that for modern performance art?
Use made up names if you want - just answer my poll question!

In the meantime, I'm going to check out what the reports look like, and whether I've incurred the wrath of Acteva techies by using their system without "paying for it."

Finally, fwiw: I have heard from a source that their nonprofit organization dumped Acteva because the company was slow to pay out the revenue. It's second-hand, but there it is....

Anyone else have experience using this company?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Everyone's talking, but who is listening?

This seems to be the essential issue concerning using blogs on the Internet - heck, just using the Internet at all: there's a lot of good information out there, but you gotta find it. That's what's really behind this slew of technologies like Spurl, Delicious (I'm sorry, adding the periods in the middle hurts my brain right now), Pub Sub, Technorati, etc.

So for the beginners: I know this is said everywhere, but it bears repeating - use Technorati to do searches on the content of blogs. You can do this in a number of ways - go to the website and type in what you are looking for. Or click on the Technorati This link, and add (by dragging) the "favelet" to your browser bar. In this case at least, things work as clearly as they are described.

There's still some finessing to do, because if I type in "technology" and "arts" I'm not really finding much that is relevant - but I have a feeling the answer has something to do with "tags"....

The other idea about finding relevant content is finding out who is talking about you. I mean, if someone mentions my blog, then there's a chance I might be interested in their blog. In fact, I was planning on linking to Joe's aptly named blog a few days ago, but I got sidetracked, so he got the first link, because the same person who talked about me talked about him too. But I won't link that whole thread - since as Joe mentions, sometimes this "link to link to link" creates a torrid link love affair reminiscent of those vacation autoresponder wars that happen every major holiday....

Thursday, February 03, 2005


It's clear there are a bunch of early adopters among the blogging crowd.

I'm not one of them.

So I'm a perfect guinea-pig "Missing Link". If I can "get" the cool ideas - and tools - that make blogging useful, and make the process transparent by doing so in this space - then maybe other folks (and hopefully the target audience - staff at arts nonprofits) will be able to get it too. That is - if they're worth it... I don't want to make a value judgement in advance.

Because when a coworker says:

... Spurl interfaces with You enter a link using spurl -- it gets recorded in both systems. But spurl has a very nice little feature -- you can grab a bit of javascript that will display the links in your webpage. Easy.

I say ....

I got a Spurl account. I got a Bloglines account. I got a account. I feel like I have the virtual version of a Geek Belt.

What do I do with them? (You don't have to answer that question yet....)

Zero 1 and the Dancing Project

This blog is not specifically the place to discuss technology's use in creating art - that's a much broader and experimental field than the rather more mundane "Using technology in arts organizations to further their mission" (see? it just doesn's sound as exciting, does it?). I'm also a bit of a late adopter, a stance I want to make specific in this blog - as you will see in some of my following posts.

However, I do want to point to Silicon Valley art nonprofit Zero 1, an innovative technology-meets-art organization. Stepping back from the innovative part, I wanted to point to the tools they developed to build community and share experiences on the web during their Dancing on the Web, Dancing on the Ocean project:

The OpenVoice built and maintained the website [I fixed this link] for this project, as communication tool to connect the multiple and diverse Silicon Valley youth groups to each other, to the Joko Clubs in Senegal, and to a growing website audience. The performers wrote journals of their experience on the website and posted stories that relate to the experience of working with and making friends with their counterparts in a country and culture very different from their own.

Note: The actual project website is almost 4 years old, and a lot of the links are dead or link to a domain squatter. And fwiw - Zero 1 used to be called Ground Zero (pre 9/11/01). But! What a great idea!

If you want to catch up with Zero 1 Director Steve Dietz, check out San Jose's Future Salon free evening event on Feb 15th (RSVP and ride-shairng requested).