How valuable is ‘free’?

Recently, we ran some school holiday workshops. We had 2 free sessions and 2 paid activities for $10 per child.

The result – the free sessions were booked out, and yet many didn’t turn up. And we had trouble filling the paid spots.

So I’m asking myself, do people just jump at things that are free, but don’t actually value them at all?

I did some digging. There are so many conflicting opinions – free means you are devaluing your offer; if you aren’t doing free work, you are missing out on audiences.

A 2012 study by Benckendorff and Pearce suggested that studies support 3 basic theories on why people attend events. These are:

  1. Attraction: the perceived importance or interest in an activity or a product, and the pleasure or hedonic value derived from participation or use;

  2. Sign: the unspoken statements that purchase or participation conveys about the person (e.g. identification as a fan of the team); and

  3. Centrality to lifestyle: which encompasses interaction with friends and family, and the central role of the activity in the context of an individual’s life.

Queensland’s touring program experts, ArTour say:

Unfortunately, being free is no guarantee of an audience. In fact, sometimes a small admission fee is a better way to help people feel committed to attending. Their ‘investment’ in the experience makes them less likely to forget or dismiss the event.

Basically, event attendees need to feel that their investment of time in attending the event is worth it – the fun, the personal identification with the event or the opportunity for interaction. A free event just might not seem as valuable. Even after making a booking, the value of other activities they could be doing may out way attending a free event.

But people do still come in numbers to free events like festivals, picnics and open days. Maybe the lure of big crowds is an attraction. Or that it is something special and one off.

It’s a tough decision. But we are trialling free big events and a fee of $5 plus for all other activities at the museum. We’ll see how that goes.

Do you run events? How is attendance, what tricks do you use?

Do you run activities? I’ll be launching a new service to match event organizers and activity providers son. Sign up for advance notice about it all here.


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