Look out licensing houses, here comes Seth!

http://www.theproducersperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/my_weblog/6a00e54ef2e21b88330120a59de3ac970c.jpgOne of the most popular business bloggers in the world took a swing at the theatrical licensing agents yesterday, with this blog about a non-pro production of Grease that cost the theater company $3k in royalties to put on.

It seems like an awful lot, Seth argues, for a show with 3 jokes and 4 chords.  He actually calls Grease an “old, not particularly wonderful musical script.”

I don’t know many people that would disagree with him, yet those 3 jokes and 4 chords have made a lot of audiences very happy and all of the authors very rich.

I worked on the 1994 revival of Grease with Rosie O’Donnell then Brooke Shields then Jon Secada, then Dominque Dawes then Maureen McCormick and so on and so on (It was on Grease where the Weisslers perfected their art of star replacement aka “stunt casting,” that they would use to even greater success on Chicago).  One day during a tech rehearsal, I turned to Jim Jacobs, the book writer of Grease, and said, “You know, Jim, I actually played Kenickie once.”

He laughed and said, “Ken, there isn’t anyone that I’ve met who hasn’t done Grease at least once in their life.”

Back to the subject . . .

Seth argues that the price of Grease was artificially inflated by a bit of collusion by the licensing houses.  I have to disagree.  Grease is high because Grease sells, whether we like it or not.  If that local theater company wanted to do a show with less of a proven box office success rate, then they could find a zillion shows in that Sam French catalog for less.  But no. They wanted to do a show that they knew their audience (and their actors) would love.

Or hey, they could even pull an old Gilbert and Sullivan out of the trunk and save a bundle.

If you’ve never read any of Seth’s stuff before, start with this one.  While technically a marketing book, it is a great handbook for how to pick a show to produce.  Simply stated, if it’s not purple, don’t produce it.

And yes.  That is me playing Kenickie on that 1969 Volkswagon Beetle.  And yes, Grease does take place in 1957.  Maybe we picked the ’69 because we couldn’t afford a ’57 car because the royalties were so expensive. Yeah, that’s it. That’s it.

  • Carolina says:

    “The reason fees for licensing plays are so high…”
    Seth lost me there. The man clearly has no clue what he’s talking about. Most fees for licensing plays are less than $100 per performance — which is the reason most produced playwrights can’t make a living from their theater work.
    I haven’t seen Grease (the musical), so I have no opinion about its quality, but if its authors have become very rich, good for them. I only wish more licensing fees were higher, so that talented people could actually make a living from playwriting.
    I won’t be buying the “Purple Cow” anytime soon. Sorry, I meant ever.

  • Seth Godin says:

    Thanks for the commentary and for reading the blog. I think collusion is a little strong… my point is that the licensing agents have a great deal of power because the market is so inefficient and the buyers are unaware of one another. My post, of course, wasn’t about the theatre as much as it was about markets and how the internet can make them more fair.
    As for Carolina’s comment, she’s no longer allowed to buy Purple Cow. No book for you!
    Playwrights have just as much as an opportunity as the shcools do. The reason that it’s so hard to make it as a playwright is that success is so unevenly distributed. Almost everyone makes nothing but a few people hit the jackpot.
    As the long tail that transformed recorded music hits your industry, it will take a bit of wind out of the hits and at the same time boost the market for quality plays that didn’t used to be able to find an audience.
    Or at least we can hope.

  • Pete says:

    Self-proclaimed experts are like most politicians: incapable of admitting they were wrong. Mr. Godin, I see, is no exception.

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