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Concerns raised that introduction of dynamic ticket pricing will impact overall sales and the composition of audiences. 

The London Symphony Orchestra pictured at the Barbican.
The London Symphony Orchestra, pictured at the Barbican, will be among those performing at the festival.

Pam Fray/Creative Commons

The introduction of a new pricing policy for the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) risks making it unaffordable for its traditional audience, it has been claimed.

The annual arts festival, which begins tomorrow (4 August) and runs until 27 August, introduced dynamic pricing for this year's event which means that the face value of a ticket rises or falls based on levels of demand.

But concerns have been raised that the practice has inflated prices and could deter people from attending.


Writing in a blog on Edinburgh Music Review, Kate Calder said she realised Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) had introduced dynamic pricing for its tickets around six weeks ago. 

Having bought nine tickets online in late April at a total cost of £341.50, she went back to buy more tickets a month later to find that prices had gone up. On a like-for-like basis, the nine tickets she previously bought were at that point costing £489.50 - a rise of 43%.

"Looking around the website it was clear that as soon as a percentage – around 35% - of tickets were sold, all the ticket prices went up, apart from the lowest price, and these continued to rise as more tickets were sold. 

"This type of pricing, though expected for rail and air travel, is virtually unknown in classical music concerts and opera houses and is certainly new for the EIF."

Calder said despite the rising prices, nearly all tickets have been sold for ‘The Magic Flute’, the London Symphony Orchestra playing Rachmaninov and Shostakovich and for performances of the Berliner Ensemble’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the Festival Theatre - stating that these events "may be considered successes for the pricing policy".

Struggling to sell

But she adds other events that initially sold well are yet to fill seats which have become far more expensive.  

"The Rite of Spring’ performed by African dancers at the 3,000 seat Playhouse sold a lot of tickets initially in the front of the Grand Circle, thus putting up the prices," she said.

"Now there are many rows of seats at between £60 and £90 unfilled in the stalls. An international cast which deserves a large audience may well play to an embarrassingly poor house.  

"There’s a similar situation at the Usher Hall where Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, with a great cast of soloists, is currently half-empty."

Hugh Kerr, Editor of Edinburgh Music Review, said Edinburgh has previously had a reputation for being a "very accessible" festival with prices much cheaper than European festivals. 

But he added the publication has warned the Festival in recent years that prices are rising too quickly and it is "in danger of pricing its traditional audience out of the festival".

Kerr said that he has experienced a 300% increase in about five years. 

"I raised this with the commercial director at the festival at the programme launch and she admitted that attendance figures were 7% down last year," he said. 

"I predict that they may be even further down this year; there are still many concerts with relatively low uptake, even the concert operas which in the past would have sold out quickly. The unannounced flexible pricing policy which Kate [Calder] has researched can only further drive prices up. 

"The danger is that Edinburgh will acquire a reputation as a Festival for the well-heeled, and since two thirds of its audience comes from the Edinburgh area and many of them are pensioners who are not well-heeled, this may well backfire."

Ensuring accessibility

A spokesperson for Edinburgh International Festival said that, as a not-for-profit organisation that has had its public funding reduced by 40% over the past decade, flexible pricing allows the festival to support a wider range of prices for our audiences and offer concession pricing of up to 50% off, so audiences of all ages and backgrounds can attend.   

"The International Festival, as well as most concert halls and ticketed venues in Edinburgh and across the UK, has for a long time manually adjusted prices based on predicted interest in performances," the spokesperson said.

"Flexible pricing simply streamlines that price adjustment process, within guidelines that we set, based on demand. We join dozens of arts organisations, classical music venues, as well as contemporary music and events organisers in using this technology. We carefully monitor the pricing and none of the prices this year will exceed our top prices from 2022.  

"This is an incredibly difficult time for many, including organisations and workers in the culture sector, and we are focussed on ensuring we can keep the festival as accessible as possible to the broadest possible audience."

They added that flexible pricing means it can offer thousands of free tickets to young people, community groups and NHS workers; programme an array of free events for Edinburgh locals and visitors to the city, and also fund development projects for artists to gain access to world class performers visiting Edinburgh as part of the festival.