Swiftonomics: The Taylor Swift School of Parasocial Supply and Demand

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By Published On: April 2, 20240 Comments

What retailers can learn from Taylor Swift and Fred Again about trumping tradition and building relationships with your customers.

Nearly two months on, the country is left reeling in the afterglow from Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour, a global phenomena of a tour which started over a year ago with dates extending right through to December – seeing the star rake in millions. A certified athlete, she is putting the work in by performing over 44 songs throughout a three hour period choreographed to a wink. 

Back in February, Taylor Swift performed to over 280,000 fans across three shows at Melbourne’s MCG, with her final four Australian shows taking place at Sydney’s Accor stadium for 80,000 fans a night. 

It is hard to think back on a time when Taylor Swift was just your average pop star. Back when she played her first Melbourne show to 900 people back in 2009 she was still a country sweetheart, and tickets going for $20 a pop. Even when she last toured for her Reputation album back in 2018, the New York post reported that she was struggling to sell out shows due to “high prices”. 

A quick walk down memory lane reveals prices were surprisingly similar to the pre-pandemic norm in 2018. Around 53,000 fans attended her Reputation show at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium, a show that did not sell out, with tickets ranging from $104.40 for D reserve seats to $818.05 for the “Snake Pit Package”, which includes a premium general admission ticket and collector’s box with “exclusive tour artwork and memorabilia”. 

Fans attending the Eras Tour could snatch up G Reserve tickets for just $79.90, with final release batches with restricted views going for as cheap as $65. On the other end of the spectrum, the top tier VIP package went for $1249.90 and included front section seats and an array of collectors merchandise. 

When tickets went on sale for this tour, fans waited for hours on Ticketek’s website, hoping the randomised system would pull them through into the ticket queue. 

For those that didn’t snatch up one of the 280,000 tickets on offer in Melbourne, a growing tradition of “Taylor-gating” saw a reported 50,000 fans tailgating the show in the park outside on night two.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics have found Taylor and the big wigs at Universal Music Group aren’t the only ones lining their pockets throughout this pandemonium. 

ABS has revealed Australian retail turnover rose 0.3 percent (seasonally adjusted) in February 2024.  Ben Dorber, ABS head of retail statistics, said: “Seven sold-out Taylor Swift concerts in Sydney and Melbourne boosted retail spending this month, with over 600,000 Swifties flocking to these events. This led to increased spending on clothing, merchandise, accessories and dining out.”

There is no doubt she has emerged as a cultural icon in the past few years. Taylor Swift has soared beyond your typical popstar. Officially a billionaire as of last year, she has been named Time’s Person of the Year in 2023, but where did this hype come from? Why, despite the cost of living crisis are young people so willing to invest in this fandom?

Ahead of Taylor’s touchdown in the country, the University of Melbourne played host to Swiftposium 2024: An Academic Conference on Taylor Swift collaboratively organised by scholars from six universities across Australia and New Zealand. The conference addressed how a single artist has influenced various aspects of contemporary life, with papers exploring Swift’s influence across the intersection of music, economics, business, media studies, health, and societal and cultural impact.

Leading researcher in the field and keynote speaker Dr Georgia Carroll spoke to the BBC about the hype. Dr Carroll’s research centres around fandom commodification, specifically as this Taylormania pertains to an extreme demand for concert tickets.  Dr Carroll says Taylor Swift’s connection with her fandom trumps their monetary concerns. “Taylor has spent her whole career making her fans think they could be her friend,” Dr Carroll told the BBC. “And she’s done all of these things that make fans want to act in a way that makes her like them back,” which can be seen in a willingness to buy and craft costumes for the show that pay homage to moments throughout her career, buying every special edition of her albums, following the tour around the world, or even just spreading the gospel of her. 

Last week, one of Australia’s most iconic music festivals was cancelled just weeks after a star studded lineup was revealed featuring Kylie Minogue, Arcade Fire, Future and more homegrown and international artists. Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass has become an institution for gig goers and artists alike. Australian Festival Association (AFA) director Mitch Wilson told Triple J that the unexpected cancellation came down to low ticket sales, combined with skyrocketing production costs due to the current state of the Aussie dollar.

“Festivals are really struggling at the moment because of the strength of the Australian dollar,” he explained. “Like it’s actually not that attractive at the moment, given where the dollar is at, you know, for an artist to come all of this way. It’s actually really really difficult for us to compete against so many other events that are happening in the northern hemisphere.”

He continued: “We’re seeing costs up 30 to 40 percent across the board and ticket sales just aren’t where they need to be to cover those costs.”

Its not just Splendour taking a year off, Groovin The Moo, a regional music festival that was set to bring a much needed boost to Wayville, Bendigo, Canberra, Newcastle, the Sunshine Coast, and Bunbury was cancelled just two weeks after tickets went on sale, alongside beloved New Year’s Festival Falls, and Tasmania’s creepy but world renowned Dark Mofo winter festival.

This unfortunate example proves that the Swifties’ unwavering loyalty throughout tough times is a really unique phenomena.

“[For other artists], their sphere of influence doesn’t extend too far out of their fan base. But that’s no longer true of Taylor,” said Dr Caroll, which is clear in ABS’ data. 

The ABS attributes Taylormania to a boost in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (4.2 percent) and department stores (2.3 percent) in February. Fashion retailers jumped onto the trend quickly, offering concert edits full of glitter and sequins. 

“Fashion and accessory retailers told us offerings of Taylor Swift inspired outfits and related do-it-yourself accessories added to turnover in February,” Mr Dorber said. The hospitality industry also quickly caught on, with bars offering special Taylor Swift themed cocktails ahead of the concerts. Across the industry; cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services had a 0.5 percent rise in February with an increase in spending the ABS also linked to the Taylor Swift concerts. 

The Taylormania pandemonium brought with it a much needed boost to both morale and the economy. The state of live music seems dire and we can only hope touring artists take a page out of her book to recreate some of the momentum we saw in February across a variety of industries. 

I can’t end off this piece without acknowledging one such artist who has done just that.  If you have been on social media in the past month, you will have seen the name Fred Again pop up, usually accompanied by either a boast, or a desperate plea for tickets and expletives over his unconventional promotional methods. UK based producer and DJ Frederick Gibson, known professionally as Fred Again has seemingly studied at the Taylor Swift school of parasocial supply and demand. He announces a concert just days – sometimes hours, in advance by simply posting an Instagram story with a ticket link. His army of fans scramble to get tickets. Over one million people attempted to purchase tickets to his Australian arena tour in March and he sold out multiple nights at the Sydney Opera House, Qudos Bank Arena, and Rod Laver in a matter of hours. Alongside his unique, inoffensive and emotional music, his authenticity, spontaneity and relationship with his fans is refreshing and resonates with a young audience who doesn’t want to worry about bills but rather live in the moment.

Its clear that live music needs to be approached more personally with authenticity (or a sense of it) and connection trumping traditional formats in order to sell tickets.

This case study doesn’t just apply to musicians as retailers should take note and make an effort to build connections with their audience as purse strings continue to tighten. In these tough times, as Taylor Swift says, its just nice to have a friend.

About the Author: Rosalea Catterson

Rosalea is the Editor of Power Retail. With a keen interest in consumer behaviour and tech, she covers everything ecommerce and hosts the Power Retail Power Talks Podcast.

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