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In a muddle

Pauline McLean | 16:52 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

The Fringe is already the world's largest arts festival so it's surprising to hear them admitting that they regularly add attendance to free events to their end of festival box office figures.

Not all free events - many of the promoters of the ever expanding free festival side of the fringe say they deliberately refuse to co-operate with the Fringe Society on speculating about numbers. Good for them.

As one of a number of reporters who regularly report the final box office figures in good faith - backing them up with calls to individual promoters - it's somewhat unsettling to know the Fringe are deliberating muddling the two together.

The defence today is that it's the methodology consistently used for the last decade.

If anything, they say, the figures could give a very conservative estimate of attendance.

But that's not the point. The figures announced on Monday were quite clearly labelled as tickets sold - 1,955,913 of them - not tickets handed out, or even heads counted in free events in pubs.

Promises of transparency

As most marketing experts point out, the two shouldn't be confused, and the row doesn't do it any favours, particularly after the promises of transparency following the box office problems of 2008.

Kath Mainland and the rest of the Fringe Society need to take steps quickly and clarify the way they add up their sales.

Meantime, it looks as if the real overall figure, about 120,000 less than that announced, is the incremental rise predicted by analysts like Professor Joe Goldblatt of Queen Margaret University.

The fringe may now level out - particularly if the anticipated cuts in the local authority sector begin to bite.

Any growth will also be limited by the amount of accomodation available - with some performers this year staying up to two hours away from the city - and by the availability of venues.

The Fringe - like the festivals around it - will remain the world's biggest.

Sometimes it requires a little effort, though, to remain the best.

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