Word Stock Market: Subscriber

The Word Stock Market is an occasional feature on SellingOut.com, where I will tell you whether to buy, sell or hold a certain word based on whether that word has a strong future or has seen better days. For example, if you’d bought the word “hybrid” 10 years ago (when it meant a cross between a horse and a donkey, not an eco-friendly car), you’d be rich today. On the other hand, if you’d bought “digital camera,” you’d be broke.

Today’s Word Stock is Subscriber. This investment guidance also applies to the term “Season Subscriber” or “Season Ticket Holder.”

This former blue-chip investment has had a hard decade or so. Even as late as the early 2000s, subscriber was a solid gold investment. It delivered year after year of reliable, high-quality dollars to live entertainment and arts organizations around the country and world. You could sell someone once … ONCE! … and then they’d buy not just tickets to a show, but a whole series of tickets to a whole series of shows for an entire year.

Did I say for an entire year? How about for the rest of their lives?

This was a stock you could retire on.

Then, the environment changed. Internet technology made the unbundling of ticket purchases easier; the secondary market appeared, which meant that ticket availability was more liquid; then the baby boomers’ cultural ascendency waned. We got used to picking and choosing, just buying the one good song on iTunes rather than having to buy the whole album with nine other highly dubious tracks on it.

Some of this is truth and some of this is myth, of course. Subscriptions didn’t die. They didn’t even decline everywhere. But it’s fair to say that they became less reliable on the whole. It became very fashionable (and also partly true) to say that the season subscription/ticket is on its way out.

Except I don’t think it is. It has certainly transformed, becoming more “flexible” and taking on aspects of membership in a club, rather than just a bulk ticket purchase commitment. I would say that, in fact, when it’s done right, subscriptions are hotter than ever. When they’re as much about a statement of self-definition and exclusive access rather than best price and reduced purchase friction, they can be very powerful. Heck, even restaurants are selling out of season tickets.

So if you’re in this business and you’d like to keep seeing blue-chip returns, you can if you make your subscription mean more than cheap tickets and a single-purchase moment. Make it special; make it be something that enhances the eventgoing. In other words, if you offer me membership in a club I want to be in, I’d subscribe to that.

RATING: HOLD. There’s real potential here, but whether most live marketers will figure out how to unlock it remains to be seen.

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