So now it’s report back time. The Festival undertakes to report to its sponsors on achievement against the targets it sets itself each year. This year’s Report is being put together, but I can share some highlights.
Revenue from the box office and from book sales is up on 2017 and continues the upward trend from 2016. This isn’t surprising, we had more events and, therefore, more books for sale. So, overall, we made a small ( a very small ) profit. But then making profits isn’t what the Book Festival is about, it’s about celebrating books and reading, tempting authors to Clapham and bringing Clapham authors to the notice of their neighbours. We certainly did both this year.
On publicity we didn’t get so many featured articles this year, even in local media, maybe because of the greater focus on fiction ( last year Kate Adie was very popular with local media editors ), but also because Dame Margaret did not do interviews. This was out-weighed, however, by publicity from the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Authors, as well as web-sites like Book Brunch. The Sunday Times was interested in doing a piece, though this was at a very late stage and we thought that next year, a bit earlier in the process, might be better. Listeners to Radio 4’s Poetry Extra or watchers of BBC4’s Mark Lawson Talks to… may have heard our little Festival mentioned on national BBC radio and TV (something which will help when seeking sponsors for next year).
Our mailing list grows, as do our Twitter followers and folk using our web-site (these targets were hugely exceeded). The Feedback sheets (completed by 30% of the total audience – a very high percentage) suggest that, despite our foot slogging around local markets and areas where people congregate, the leaflets weren’t actually a major driver of attendance. This is instructive as printing is a major part of our spend. We will review the practice next year. Feedback also tells us that we deliver a high quality product. 95% of respondents said they were very satisfied, with 5% stating fairly satisfied, but only, they said, because of the last-minute withdrawal of Lucy Luck, whom they had wanted to see.
Thanks must go to The Windmill on the Common, an old coaching inn now turned into a pub and boutique hotel, for their generous prize of an overnight stay for two with breakfast, which persuaded folk to fill in the Feedback sheets and thereby enter the raffle for the prize. That has yet to be drawn.
All that said, we didn’t manage to meet the rather ambitious audience numbers targets we had set ourselves. This meant that the average attendees per event was down, from 52 last year to 33 this (17 in 2016). The reasons for this, we believe, are complicated. We had more events this year and we knew that some of them were ‘niche’, the poetry slot, for example, was unlikely to achieve our targeted average. We calculated that the evening event would, like last year, sell out, which would cover any shortfall. But we hadn’t bargained for the rain setting in at about half past four. Almost half our evening audiences last year were ‘walk ups’, people deciding to come along at the last minute. People were unlikely to do so in the pouring rain. So, while we had perfectly respectable audience numbers in the evening, it wasn’t the ‘put more chairs in’ experience of last year. This meant that the average went down. The physical Box Office closing for refurbishment just over a week before our event didn’t help either, though tickets were still available on-line.
So, for another year running, Clapham Writers has delivered a successful event. We know how to do delivery now, that much is clear. But there’s still a lot of learning for next time, about publicity, scheduling and calculating audience numbers (which, by the way, everyone who does this sort of thing agrees is something of a lottery). The next Clapham Book Festival might look rather different, who knows?
A version of this article first appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site in June 2018.