688 tickets issued per show on average

75 has a ring of celebration and achievement to it that 76 just doesn't. The diamond-themed decorations are long taken down and the sense of triumph fades in the face of a five year trudge to 80.

The Fringe is 76 this year and, despite its Olympic-sized realisation, you would be forgiven for thinking that its best days are over given the downbeat press that seems, at least to me, to have dominated the coverage since early summer.

Leading industry commentator Lyn Gardner in The Stage in week two of the event was "re-think[ing] the fringe model", and by week three was offering "what we need to fix the fringe" and accepting her role as cheerleader for negative thinking, albeit that she is also a fan of the Fringe.

So what needs fixing—let's start with a roundup of the numbers which are:

  • 35% increase in access bookings on last year
  • 67 countries represented on stage (including 17 country showcases)
  • 170 countries represented across artists, media and audiences
  • 288 venues
  • 320 sensory resources for autistic children and adults
  • 500 (nearly) street artists
  • 800-plus schoolchildren and teachers attending the festival under outreach schemes
  • 840 accredited media representatives from 24 countries
  • 80,000 Fringe app downloads
  • 400,000 plus tickets issued through the Fringe app
  • 3,553 shows programmed
  • 2,445,609 tickets issued, up 11% on last year

Looking at the big venues, Underbelly reports ticket sales up 7% on last year at nearly 300,000. For 2023, there were four venues (Bristo Square, George Square, Cowgate and Circus Hub) offering a programme of 150 events that covered cabaret, circus, comedy, dance, theatre and children's shows.

Summerhall's sales were "back at pre-pandemic levels" but the exact stats weren't yet available. Their programme of 92 or so theatre and dance events extended to include a new initiative, The Summerhall Surgeries, delivering four artist development sessions to roughly 230 participants. Also new this year was The REWIND Award for work themed around decolonisation; named after its first winner, Rewind, the award was taken home by Ephemeral Ensemble.

theSpaceUK, which at six sites accommodating 19 venues is amongst the heaviest of lifters on the Fringe, has proportionally larger figures, presenting 423 shows. Its size means it can offer a variety of events and boast that every genre in the Fringe programme is represented.

The 3,408 artists who strutted their stuff at theSpaceUK came from more than 40 different countries, enjoyed playing to an average 60% capacity audience and saw their events process 190,000 tickets, up 22% on last year and averaging 8,000-plus a day. Over 1,000 reviews were published for work presented at theSpaceUK venues.

I read on Chortle that Gilded Balloon presented 3,354 performances and saw an increase of 6% on tickets issued (189,177), selling out nearly a one third of its programme.

Assembly Festival laid on 3,940 performances for which it issued 453,000 tickets, but the most memorable figure to emerge from its boardroom during August is £1,500,000—about which more later.

The Pleasance had three venues—the Dome, the Courtyard and the EICC—and presented 273 shows from artists representing 20 countries, enjoying a 10% increase on sales. It issued 480,000 tickets and its iconic Courtyard hosted a whopping 36,000-plus people on its busiest day.

Partnering with Edinburgh primary schools, it fully subsidised 1,300 tickets and transport for pupils and provided work experience and free access to performances for locals who otherwise may not access the Festival.

Its signature work supporting artists saw the Pleasance increasing its box office split to artists in venues of under 70 seats by 5%, helping artists find accommodation, growing its programme of accessible work and expanding the wellbeing scheme.

On first reading the roundup, I can't help thinking it sounds so positive and nearly quarter of a million tickets, wow, that sounds a lot of bums on seats, but even those oh so solid bums need to be seen through a clear lens.

Of the 3,553 programmed shows, one third may not have generated any box office revenue at ticketing: 439 were offered for free and 614 were offered on a pay what you want or pay what you can basis.

Taking "free" at face value, as the financial model is not known, that leaves 17% / approaching one fifth of shows holding a bucket in hope and expectation but unlikely to be generating anything close to the average ticket price, which for 2023 came in at something under £12.

And then it strikes me and I can't understand why I've not noticed it before. It's all about numbers of tickets and the number of shows and so on. No one ever talks about the actual money or the actual revenue.