When the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the world into lockdown, many orchestras examined their operations to identify areas that needed to change before reopening for live performances. One such area was the printed program book.
Prior to the pandemic, audiences entered the performance venue and were handed a program book by an usher. Coming out of lockdown, orchestras looked to digital program books as a way to reduce physical contact onsite. As Greta Rimpo, Director of Marketing & Communications for ROCO, put it, “We began offering digital program books during the COVID-19 pandemic as a touchless alternative.”
As social distancing requirements and mask mandates gradually lifted, orchestras identified other reasons for shifting to digital program books. “We had been looking for solutions to our program book that fit our budget. The programs had long taken up an oversized place in our marketing and operations spending,” said Katie Bonner Russo, Marketing Director for New Haven Symphony Orchestra. “Advertisers were becoming less engaged by the idea of a paper advertisement. The pandemic also caused us to have to work on much tighter timelines to produce concerts so long lead-times for editing, printing, and distribution were not possible.”
For Corey Holcomb, Digital Marketing Manager at Grand Rapids Symphony, “reducing costs of printing a program book was a priority this season. We also realized the digital program’s flexibility was ideal for our situation as we re-introduced audiences to in-person events.”
“Moving to a digital program book only made sense for us,” said Anwar Nasir, Executive Director of Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. “As our audiences skew younger and are more accustomed to gathering information on their phones, it seemed like the appropriate next step to have it in our offerings.”
In February 2022, U.S.-based technology company InstantEncore announced the launch of InsideGuide, a new platform for creating and delivering digital program books for cultural events. It presents the elements of a printed program in an interactive, mobile-first format. In its first year of service, InsideGuide powered over 1,700 digital program books across 81 cultural organizations.
Orchestras using InsideGuide discovered additional benefits from their digital program books. According to Russo, “The digital programs have brought us immense savings both financially and with staff time. They take considerably less time to produce than a paper book, and it is easy to make edits in real-time as needed.”
Nasir agrees, “Internally, it gives us more flexibility to update information as it becomes available. I also think about engagement with patrons outside of the concert hall. I hear from patrons that sometimes they will go back after a concert and read more information about the concert. With a digital guide, we can offer so much more than what we can print.”
While the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital program books, orchestras are finding that the flexibility, cost savings, and engagement opportunities make it a trend that will continue long into the future.