A Bird In The Hand Is Worth More Than Two In Computer Memory

Roger Tomilson tweeted about Harvard Business Review article that provides some food for thought about how people might experience arts and culture.

I’ll jump right to a quote since the article title, “Customers Won’t Pay as Much for Digital Goods — and Research Explains Why,” pretty much provides the all the introduction you need.

The greater value ascribed to physical than digital goods persisted when we accounted for people’s estimates of production costs and retail prices. It even held for goods with no resale value. Plausible alternative explanations, such as physical goods lasting longer or being more enjoyable to use than digital goods, also failed to explain this difference.

Only a difference in the extent to which people feel a sense of ownership for digital and physical objects explained their preference for the physical format. Indeed, the value gap disappeared for goods participants rented and expected to give back.


Because ownership entails a link between a person and an object, we found the gap in their value increased when that link was easy to form and disappeared when that link was hard to establish. Participants valued a physical copy of The Empire Strikes Back more than a digital copy, for instance, only if they considered the Star Wars series to be films with which they strongly identified. Participants who weren’t Star Wars fans valued physical and digital copies similarly.

To summarize: People value physical objects more than digital ones when the object represents something with which they closely identify, even if it has no monetary value, if they don’t have to give it back.

As much as I would like it to, this doesn’t really address whether people value physical encounters with transitory experiences like attending a performance or visiting a museum versus seeing a recording or a digital copy of a piece of visual art.

Even if I did try to wedge a rationalization in there, we’d still be left with the finding that, regardless of format, people place an equal value on things they don’t feel are relevant to them. Which means, people won’t automatically start to value art if they experience the physical manifestation. (You probably didn’t need research to tell you that.)

What I wondered is whether having something physical to take away from the experience facilitates in creating more value for people. Do well designed, informative playbills/programs/information sheets/gallery maps, etc help to solidify value for people even if they ultimately decide to toss it? Versus nothing or an digital media tour that is only available at the venue.

If so, does the effect increase if a hand-on activity is provided which produces something people can take with them? Is a link forged when someone executes an expression of personal creativity? It may have no value to anyone else but it is simultaneously allowing people to participate in the creative process and generating a physical manifestation connected to the experience.

Does this provide a greater  sense of ownership and investment in the experience?

And if you are nodding affirmatively and thinking “yes” to yourself, here is the next question – Where do selfie pictures fit in?

They are creative expressions but in digital form.  Research has shown people feel selfies and digital recording  enhance the experience…they just can’t accurately remember the content of the experience.  One potential way to mitigate this is to offer background and props for people to use in selfies as a way of saying, “we would prefer you not use your devices during the show, but we want you to remember this experience.”

Thoughts? Opinions? Ideas?

I would be interested to see if the presence of a gift shop/souvenirs increases value for people over places that don’t offer them. How many of you would stock cheesy snowglobes if there was a correlation with increased return visits in a 5 year period?

Your Resolution To Create Connections With Arts And Culture Starts Today! (or maybe tomorrow depending on when you read this)

For over two years now I have been talking about Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative to build public will for arts and culture.

While readers have had an opportunity to review the materials on the website, few have been able to attend the Arts Midwest presentations and ask questions in person.

Well you are in luck! Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 19 @ noon CST Creating Connection program manager Anne Romens will be hosting a webinar to discuss the project and findings. You can register by following that link.

Anne also hosted a webinar on the subject last week. The video of that webinar is available if you don’t have the opportunity to participate on Tuesday. You’ll want to pay attention around the 33 minute mark for the shout out to some work I have been doing.

Even if you don’t think you will become the full throated advocate for the project that I am, at the very least you can come away from the webinar with some tips on how to change your messaging and promotional materials to be more audience and experience focused.

The webinar comes at the right time to allow you to resolve to do a better job in the New Year so check it out.

Even Wagner Can’t Shush The Italians

When discussion turns to how audiences were once pretty raucous but are now expected to sit quietly, you get the impression that those times are long past. Those who are plugged into the opera world are probably aware, however, that at least a certain segment of the audience at La Scala is still pretty vocal. According to a piece on History Today, in 2013 the opening performance of La Traviata was accompanied by catcalls and hissing.

…having interrupted the performance several times with noisy catcalls, they rounded off the evening by booing loudly during the curtain call. The cast were devastated. The Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala – who had sung the part of Alfredo Germont – was so appalled that he refused to perform at Milan’s most celebrated cultural landmark ever again.

It wasn’t the first time that the loggionisti had made their feelings heard. In 2006, the Franco-Sicilian tenor Roberto Alagna stormed off stage midway through a performance of Verdi’s Aida in protest at the furious cries that were hurled at him. Even the great Luciano Pavarotti was not spared the loggionisti’s wrath. In 1992, he was booed while playing the title role in Verdi’s Don Carlo.

Shortly before taking the Artistic Director post in 2014, Alexander Pereira, declared his determination to stamp the practice out.

The loggionisti, however, disagreed. Believing that the audience have every right to take sub-standard singers to task, they have continued to raise merry hell.

While we may want to cite numerous interruptions by cellphones, talking, consuming food, etc that occurs these days as a similar manifestation, note that the loggionisti are, at least theoretically, invested in paying attention to the performance and are relatively knowledgeable.

Though when you are talking about interruptions, that is perhaps a distinction without a difference. I wrote about similar situations before when audiences in the US were so invested in performances, they might complain during a show when an actor’s interpretation of Shakespeare didn’t align with their own.

Reading the History Today piece, you might start to think history repeats itself with its discussion of designing pieces to suit short attention spans.

Realising that no audience would listen to an entire work, composers started to produce pieces that took account of their inattention. These often included an aria di sorbetto (‘sherbet aria’), an incidental passage that allowed the audience to buy food or drink without fear of missing anything important.

Like most articles on this topic, it credits Richard Wagner’s influence and demanding plot structure as the reason audiences started to sit silently and pay attention.  The fact Wagner’s name inevitable comes up as the reason for this change makes me wonder at the veracity of this claim. Could he really have been that influential or is everyone who writes about this reading from the same source (or quoting sources that all quote that original source)?

The History Today article does say that societal changes were of greater importance in the effort to bring peace to opera houses. It suggests that with the wider variety of entertainment options available in the informal atmosphere of music halls, opera houses got quieter, leaving those that appreciated opera a growing appreciation of the silence.

What implications might this have for the current cultural environment? There are pretty strong indications that people appreciate the convenience, informality and variety of entertainment available to them at home via streaming services/video games/general Internet.

I might have come to the conclusion that cultural organizations should therefore offer a wider variety of programming in an informal environment. However, the Seattle Symphony findings I wrote about on Monday make me reconsider that.  Their newer audiences gravitated toward the informal, short programming certainly, but it was also the most narrowly programmed season.

Granted, they are a single organization practicing a single cultural discipline which ultimately constitutes a pretty minuscule sample. But reading about it makes me pause before making any blanket statements. The only thing that is easy to say is this is a complex situation requiring careful thought.

There has been this assumption that newer works that connect with the tastes and values of younger audiences need to be presented rather than returning perennially to the old warhorses. But as I wrote in an email to Drew McManus, it turns out, for the Seattle Symphony at least, that the audience open to the most eclectic mix of programming is the one that is dying out.

As I say, this may only be true for a single organization and/or classical music. It made me a little embarrassed to think that an apology might be owed to a devoted audience that has been characterized as stodgy and tradition bound when it turns out they might be the radicals.

Getting back to the History Today article. As much as I don’t want a return to the chaotic environment described in articles like this, I continue to return to the subject to remind myself (and you) that we need to keep thinking about the environment we are providing. When I wrote about the Culture Track study last month, I used a lot of slides related to motivators to visit museums and galleries but the slides for live performance events are similar.

The top motivator across most genres was Having Fun, second was Interest in Content, followed by things like feeling inspired, new experiences and social opportunities with friends. People aren’t looking to scream across the room at their friends and wreck the place. There is a strong interest in the content and its value as well.

Thanks For The All Creativity

I am going use the assumption that everyone is focused on traveling for Thanksgiving and not on reading blog posts as a license to be admittedly a little lazy here and not dwell heavily on arts and cultural administration related topics today.

Over on ArtsHacker, we posted about what we were thankful for as arts administrators.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you won’t be surprised to read I appreciate the efforts people and organizations are making in advocating for the cultivation of an individual’s capacity for creativity.

More importantly, they are getting out there and providing people with hands on opportunities to help them recognize that capacity.

Hope everyone has a great time with family and friends this holiday season and travel safely.

It was with some sympathy that I read today that traffic will be awful in cities that are usually great to commute in whereas places with awful traffic jams will hardly notice it has gotten worse. Be safe out there.

In a list of the 25 U.S. metros that draw the most Thanksgiving travelers, Cleveland, Ohio, turns out to have the highest spike in pre-holiday traffic—probably because on a normal day it’s generally one of the world’s less stressful cities in which to drive.

Turkey-destined slogs through towns more generally besieged by traffic—Seattle, Dallas, and San Francisco, for example—will be still be arduous, yes, but not as shockingly so. Small comfort, I know.