Peter Szewczyk

Pay What You Want in Warsaw’s Theatres

With the theatre season in full swing, we figured it is a good time to present the initial results for our latest “Pay What You Want” experiment. In the past year, we invited over one thousand people to name their own price for one of the eight theatre spectacles that took part in two participating theatres in Warsaw. The individuals were recruited by a short online form we advertised on the internet – those who showed up seemed to enjoy the experiment and, of course, the spectacle.

The 135 individuals who participated in the experiment were randomly divided into two groups – those who would pay before the event, and those who would pay after. The results were clear – the group who was selected to make payment after the show paid significantly more – even slightly above the normal ticket price! Our worries that some participants would simply not pay for the ticket also proved false, as all individuals made a voluntary payment for their tickets. What’s more, the amount paid for the ticket by individuals paying before the show were not correlated to the expectations regarding the show. As for payments made after the show, they were significantly hire when different aspects of the show were well received.

The recruitment process for the research experiment was limited by its voluntary non-commitment nature. Of the 254 individuals who confirmed they would participate, almost half did not show up to the theatre on the agreed date. We asked these individuals why they changed their mind. The most popular responses were that (1) something came up, (2) lack of understanding how the PWYW payment scheme worked, and, most interestingly, (3) hesitation over what an appropriate payment should be. The two last “issues” were already visible at the time of initial recruitment. When we corresponded with individuals interested in taking part in the experiment, questions like “would 15 or 20 PLN be a reasonable donation?” came up often. As it turns out, when we are forced into a situation to name our own price, we may be weary of completing the transaction due to the perceived uncertainty on what an appropriate price should be.

Lastly, our experience has made us wanted to share some advice for for organizers planning free or cheap cultural events. Namely, in such cases time and availability restrictions may prove as limiting as financial restrictions. We, therefore, suggest that in order to maximize attendance for such events, participants are given flexible date options.
With the new year, we plan to expend and diversify our PWYW theatre experiment – stay tuned!