Tim Roberts is principal consultant of ARTS Australia, and is well known internationally for his expertise in CRM, ticketing and arts marketing. He is well-known in the UK as co-author, with Roger Tomlinson of Full House, Turning Data into Audiences. This year he is visiting the UK for the first time in a few years, and so is able to play the part of time traveller ..
On flying into Heathrow from Australia at some ungodly hour on Monday morning I collected my case and got through customs to join the morning commute on the Picadilly and District Lines before catching a train to Brighton for the AMA conference.
I visit the UK once every few years and I always find it interesting to so see a snapshot of the UK and its population. This snapshot is in effect an intermittent and random sample in which it is interesting to observe the changes.
One change I noticed that concerned me was the decline in the number of commuters on the train reading books during their journey.
Yes, there were people still annoying travellers on either side of them as they struggled to turn pages on broadsheet newspapers.
There were still people escaping the journey via music with earphones affixed and attached to an MP3 player or previously a CD player or in the dim dark past a Walkman
However, the main change I noticed was the number of people texting, reading emails etc on a mobile device whether a mobile, smartphone or similar.
The main casualty of this newer behaviour (remember my recent snapshots were 2011, 2006, 2003, 1999 etc) is book reading on the tube or train.
I could see some book readers still and even some kindles and the like, which of course is a newer iteration.
But overall there did seem to be less reading happening on these daily journeys.
Given the regular nature of commutes, it always intrigued me the number of people that took the opportunity to minimise the frustrations of boredom and proximity by escaping into the welcoming and engaging embrace of a good book.
I worry that these newer behaviours risk the arts losing a cohort of readers who enjoy the written word. What impact will this have on theatre? It may be a gross simplification, but what is theatre other than the written word brought to life on the stage?
I have always considered regular reading as a form of preparation for theatre, even a tendril of audience development and at the very least a good indicator of the propensity to attend theatre.
As has been questioned by other commentators, are these new devices breaking down our attention span and distracting us from literature?
Is the wealth of content available online via a mobile combined with self curation distracting potential audiences from paths of preparation to the written word whether delivered on the page or the stage?
I wonder, what do other arts marketers think?