Not that many Fringes ago, during the first weekend of the festival, artists in the beer tent would be huddled around their laptops, tablets and phones, logging on to the Winnipeg Free Press website, to see what the critics had said about their shows. Back then, it was the Free Press review that was the most important one. If CBC gave you 2 stars, but the Freep gave you 4, your houses were more likely to increase than if it was the other way around.
There would always be controversy about the validity of the reviews, but the Free Press could really sway the populace into seeing or avoiding a show. Their Fringe section usually had interviews and the latest Fringe gossip, and it seemed to generate a lot of traffic.
My how things have changed…
The last couple of Fringes, the CBC reviews seemed to garner more attention than the Free Press, and this year the CBC’s website seems to be the only major media outlet that anyone is paying attention to, and it’s not because of anything special that CBC has done. It’s because the Free Press has chopped their readership off at the knees…
The CBC media coverage and their review page is really well laid out, especially their mobile site available to smartphones. It’s simple and fast and you can find the show that you’re looking for with a simple search.
I’m not saying that their reviews aren’t coming with controversy, but at least you can easily access their opinions whether you agree with them or not.
The Free Press has created a road block to get access to their opinions, and in some cases, made it impossible.
In order to read any content on the Free Press website, you now have to create an account and then you get 30 days of free access after which you have to buy a subscription. So if you really really want to read a review, you can, by creating an account, but you’ll have to pay for it next year. I don’t know anybody who has created an account.
I observed a few people at the beer tent, looking at their program trying to decide what to see. One of them whipped out their phone, to check what the Free Press said about the show, and was presented with the page instructing them to create an account.
“What the heck is this? Create an account?”
“I don’t know, but that looks like a stupid hassle. Check and see what the CBC said.”
“Ya, that’s a good idea.”
And they logged into the CBC website, read the review, and made their decision to go see that show.
Somebody else I know actually tried to create an account on her cellphone, and had all of the information entered but the scrolling effect of the signup page prevented her from entering the “I am not a robot” information at the bottom of the page (what’s that thing called? A cucaracha? A capsicum? A capybara?)
So, after trying a few times, she gave up.
Somebody over at the Free Press has had one too many drink specials if they think this is a good idea.
I understand where this is coming from. Newspaper subscriptions are not the thing they once were before the digital age and the internet, and I’m guessing that they are trying to get people to pay for their writings like they did in the olden days. But all they have done is pushed people away to other media outlets for their news, weather, and Fringe reviews.
If they think this is going to increase revenue and increase their readership, they need to stop sniffing their ink.
They’ve also fulfilled a wish of many theatre artists in that their reviews are not being read so the opinion of the Free Press means little to nothing anymore.