Making hay while the sun shines

Broadway geeks like me probably  already know that the Tony Awards were last night.  If you’re as much of a geek as I am, you’ve continued to watch the Tonys every year, even though for the past several, you’ve probably felt a bit like a victim of theatre abuse.  Case in point: last year’s winner was Memphis.  The name mean anything?  Me either.

Last night’s ceremony, in contrast, was a celebration of one of the most productive — not to mention fun — years Broadway has seen in quite some time.  The reason is a show that is distinctly untraditional — The Book of Mormon.  Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, better known for another untraditional offering, South Park, pretty much backed up a U-Haul up to the stage door to take away their trophies.  Not bad for a musical that even the creators acknowledge is offensive, potty-mouthed, blasphemous…and very, very funny.

I could write about the joyous hosting of Neil Patrick Harris (“Broadway – It’s not just for Gays Anymore”) and the surprising singing and dancing of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but this post is not about that.  This blog is about the sweet, sweet way that Book of Mormon capitalized on their Tony wins.

From June 10 until June 13 (if you read this quickly, you still have a couple of hours), The Book of Mormon offered a free streaming listen to the soundtrack album — or, if you wanted to partake more leisurely, a download of the ENTIRE ALBUM from Amazon.com for $1.99.  Oh yes m’am, I did.  And it did not disappoint, no m’am.

I learned about this offer on Facebook, when a friend replied to a post about how much I enjoyed the Tonys.  The album, released only a few weeks ago, is already the fastest selling Broadway soundtrack in history.  The show offered a free download of the opening number, “Hello” (and I’m laughing as I type) for a few days at the album launch.

Okay — if this album is already the fastest selling soundtrack in history, why on earth would you give it away it for free (or practically free)?

I actually think this is a brilliant strategy, coming on the heels of the Tony Awards.  While the Tonys gave the show a broader exposure and helped create buzz, it also had the danger of institutionalizing the show.  Doing something bold like giving away the album not only allowed the producers to extend the buzz to America’s heartland, it also reinforced its in-your-face, look-what-I-can-do image.

And on a purely financial level, what could it hurt?

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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