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In today’s world, the trend is always to replace the physical with the digital, with many print publications going the way of the tablet. In light of this, it may seem tempting to replace your printed performing arts program books with digital ones. But while trashing your printed program books might save a ton of money in the short term, it’s a short-sighted move sure to upset patrons—and you don’t have to take my word for it. A recent editorial in The New York Times highlights the backlash you can expect to face if you give in to the siren’s song of exclusively-digital program books. Both the author and the hundreds of comments all confirm what I’ve known to be true for years—the printed program book is an important part of the patron’s experience. So, I’m not crazy after all!

The simple fact is that audiences expect and want a physical memento of their attendance at your performance, and while publishing a printed program book for your performing arts organization may feel like a lot of hassle for a slight detail, patrons don’t see it that way. What amounts to a big headache to you is actually an integral part of the entire night to them. Here are just a few of the reasons that printed program books are so superior to their digital counterparts.

Program Books Provide a Memento

One of the main draws of the printed program book is that they offer a keepsake. For many, going to a live performance of any kind is still an event worth getting dressed up and excited about. But by nature, theatrical and musical performances are fleeting. Without a printed program book, all your guests have to commemorate the night with is a memory and perhaps a selfie or two. Just by providing a printed program book, you ensure that your performance (and organization) are remembered fondly for years to come.

Many more dedicated fans also collect program books and have done so since they began going to performances. From a purely practical standpoint, depriving these patrons of printed program books is depriving your organization, sponsors, and advertisers of a place in their cherished collection. And from a performing arts fan’s standpoint, taking away the printed program book just takes away some of the tradition and magic of the whole experience.

Program Books Are Far More Engaging

Yes, you read that correctly—print is more engaging, at least when it comes to performing arts program books. If you don’t think about it too hard, a digital program book might seem like the more engaging option, especially for the younger theater-goers. But in reality, putting your program book online is a sure-fire way to make sure nobody fully reads it. Once patrons are on their phones, you’ve lost their attention to apps and Snapchats. Sure, some will pull up your link, but they’re less likely to fully dig into your information and advertisements once their notifications start pinging.

Hand out a printed program book, on the other hand, and you gain a captive audience for your promotional materials. Most everyone will at least flip through a printed program book when they’re handed one, and many will absorb the content more fully when it feels like a part of the experience.

Program Books Set the Tone

Even before the curtain rises, audiences begin to form an impression of a performance. Details such as the way a performance may have been advertised or the way the performers are dressed lodge in the mind, shaping the memory of a night out. A well-designed printed program book allows you to influence these impressions by literally handing each person a snapshot of how the performance should be perceived.

What’s more, part of the draw of theater or live performance is that it temporarily takes you out of the real world. Printed program books add to this immersion. A digital program book, on the other hand, actively removes attendees from the performance space, encouraging them to instead focus on their cell phones and checking their social media channels.

The Solution

While publishing your own program books is expensive, your audience expects to receive them. Not having a printed program book is a disappointment in your patrons’ minds. Luckily, giving the audience what they want doesn’t have to be a huge headache if you let professionals handle the publishing of your program books. Outsourcing your program books allows you to provide high-quality program books that your patrons will enjoy browsing both at the theater and long after they’ve returned home. Good selling!

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