The decision for a performing arts organization to outsource their program books tends to have a lot of moving parts. It is easy to recognize that these organizations have a lot of challenges let alone trying to self-publish their own program books. And while some performing arts organizations remain steadfast in their pledge not to outsource their program books, it tends to be a short-sighted business decision.

Considering the amount of time, manpower, and dedication it takes, it can prove to be a mammoth task for these organizations that tend not to get the right returns, and in fact, can become a huge loss for the organization. This, in turn, leads to frustration with their program books, and this frustration ultimately leads to a less than satisfactory program book for their patrons, which is ultimately a reflection on their organization.

However, not everyone believes me on this. And I kept trying to think of ways to make my argument effectively, and show performing arts organizations the inherent value of outsourcing their program books to professional publishers. And like most arguments, the best ones tend to come when you are not really looking. For example, I recently asked one of our newest clients what made them decide to outsource their program book publishing to Onstage Publications?

And his answer gave me a lot of clarity and insight into the organization’s point of view on the subject of outsourcing, and the different factors involved. Not to mention proving my argument about why performing arts organizations need to look at outsourcing their program books if they want to save money.

He came back with a detailed analysis that really resonated with me for several reasons. For many years, too many to count, I have made the constant argument that performing arts organizations need to be aware of, and account for their hidden costs as well as their hard costs.

The hard costs are obvious–paying sales commissions, paying someone to layout and design the program book, and of course, the biggest hard cost of all—printing!

But the hidden costs are the ones that will always getcha. And these hidden costs will always take their toll on a stretched budget. Hidden costs such as staff time selling the program book advertising, billing and collecting on these advertisers invoices, chasing the artwork from these advertisers, planning out the program book season, negotiating the best pricing with the printer, and on and on!

But while some performing arts organizations get it, others still clutch to their views about outsourcing their program books.

So instead of bleating on, I decided to share my client’s answer below, with some gentle commentary to make my point. What does this really mean? Well, you can stop listening to me badgering, and hear it from your peer instead.

According to him, there are several factors that performing arts organizations need to consider when making the decision to work with a company like ours. These were some of the factors that affected him in self-publishing their program books, and what made him decide to turn over the publishing to Onstage.

First, hard costs. This included calculating the annual cost of printing 8 program book editions, and commission payments to the advertising sales rep(s)–sound familiar?

Then comes the hidden costs, which are incorporated in the overall expense calculation including:

  1. Total hours spent in hiring and managing advertising sales representatives (he calculated that it was approximately 50 hours of his time each year.)
  2. Total hours it takes his marketing director to do the cover design and layout of each program book edition. Bear in mind, these hours took his director away from his usual job–marketing the theatre. With outsourcing, he gets to gain that time back.
  3. In terms of dollar amounts, these lost hours translated into $7,200 as a conservative estimate.
  4. He calculated that each program book edition took an average of 30 hours, at $30 per hour.

So, with all these factors and minus the annual advertising revenue, he realized he was not making a net profit. Instead, it was actually costing their organization $13,000+ annually to self-publish and manage their 8 program book editions.

That is a large cost to bear, for very little return. It does not make financial sense, nor is it an efficient use of their staff’s time. Instead of trying to put on the best performance they are able, employees are stretched thin trying to make tight deadlines, dealing with advertising sales reps, negotiating with printers, etc. etc., all with very little return.

This dissection alone demonstrates how much revenue is lost by eschewing outsourcing and whether self-publishing your own program books is really worth it. You might think you are saving money in the short-term, but eventually, the decision will catch up to you.

Whatever your thought process may be on outsourcing, I do think it’s worth it as an exercise to apply these same factors to your business model if you choose not to outsource. How much do you spend on the hard costs and soft costs like the ones he has laid out? Is the annual advertising revenue covering these costs? Or is your performing arts organization going into a loss because you self-publish your program books?

And finally, a performing arts organization has to ask this last very important question. Is your performing arts organizations main goal to put on a fabulous performance for your community and to keep your patrons coming back for more, or is your performing arts organization a niche publisher?

Because when a performing arts organization self-publishes their own program books, this is exactly what they are, a niche publisher, on top of trying to be the best performing arts organization that they can be.

Have questions or want to learn more about why outsourcing your program books is the right decision? You can read some of our other posts on the topic (here’s a particularly good resource), and as always, you are welcome to call me with questions or if you want additional information. I love talking about program books. Good selling!

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