As if people weren’t talking about the future of theatrical criticism and reviewers enough . . .
In today’s Yelp-ian society, legitimate theatrical criticism has waned, with a number of critics at various publications ousted from their posts, only to be replaced by blogs, tweets, and user reviews.
And there’s no sign of it slowing down.
In fact, here’s a prediction . . .
See, the theater audience is older than the everything-else audience. So Yelp isn’t the #1 place to get info about Broadway shows, because, well, to put it simply, my mom isn’t on Yelp.
But if Yelp sticks around? Tomorrow’s audience will be more dependent on Yelp and the like because that is what they have grown up on. They didn’t grow up on the NY Times. In 10 years, sites like Yelp will be as important to theatrical advertising as the NY Times.
But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about a brewing scandal brought to you by Bitter Lemons, a site dedicated to the LA theater scene.
Bitter Lemons is now offering theaters and productions a guaranteed review of their show . . . for the low price of $150.
Yep, they are charging shows to be reviewed.
Now hold on, don’t let “your head explode,” as the site’s statement reads.
According to the site, they are charging to make sure shows get coverage, and more importantly, to make sure shows get quality coverage.
Why sure, they could probably wrangle someone to write a review of a show for free, but they’d be taking whoever they could get, instead of being able to choose a person appropriate for this important task.
About now you’re probably saying, “The site should just pay the reviewer! Why should the show?”
Good question. I don’t know their economics, but as a guy who runs several niche websites, I can tell you first hand that making money from a website, especially one that needs to hire people to provide content, is, well, almost as challenging as keeping Donald Trump out of politics.
While I wish they didn’t have to resort to this new business model (and I hope that they will still review plenty of shows for free as well – and even tell productions – “Hey, no need to pay because we were planning on covering you anyway”), the fact is . . . we live in a new theatrical world. And they are a business like any other. And if they find themselves without the money to pay their people, then they are only doing what all businesses, and all people, should do . . . adapting to try and balance their books.
The question is . . . is charging for reviews better than the site going out of business altogether?
What do you think? Are they in the right? In the wrong? Would you pay for a reviewer to come if you weren’t getting the coverage you wanted?
Comment with your thoughts below.
Oh, and a Post Script. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the second major story to come out of the LA theater scene in the last several months. First, it was the minimum wage for actors debate, and now this.
Something interesting is happening on the West Coast. The scandals are signs that things aren’t going so well, but I do applaud all the parties involved for coming up with creative solutions to try and keep the theater thriving in a city obsessed with cinema.
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