SXSW Bound?

austin sqI am not really sure what SXSW thinks they are doing or what amount of arrogance they have achieved, but we were really let down.


austin 500

PLAYBACK:stl has participated in the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival for 10 years. We have covered both the music and movie portions with as many as 6 writers and photographers at a time. Most publications (including ours) put in for press credentials and were granted a media badge and photo pass. Beyond that, depending upon what kind of promotional trade we were doing with the festival, we would receive an extra media pass or something else—in 2006 we had a booth at the trade show (right next to the kids from the hot startup called Pandora). After we closed down our print publication in 2006 and went fully online, we knew there would be some decrease in our relationship with the festival. We still received one media pass plus a discount on extra passes or wristbands. We always sent at least two writers (covering both music and movies), receiving one badge for each portion. (Note that this still mandated the purchase of a second badge—at a cost of around $600—so that the reviewer could bring a photographer, second writer, or guest.)

This year, we were informed via a terse, generic email that our music writer would receive a press wristband at a cost of $159:

“You have been given access to purchase a SXSW Music Wristband at the $159 Press Rate for the 2013 SXSW Music Festival.

“Your Wristband will grant you no-cover entry into official SXSW showcases ONLY, space permitting, once all SXSW badge-holders have entered. They do not provide you entry into any panels or the SXSW Trade Show in the Austin Convention Center.”

I am not really sure what SXSW thinks they are doing or what amount of arrogance they have achieved, but we were really let down. We have participated and promoted their festival for years…and spent tens of thousands of dollars to do so…and this is their response? 

Laura wrote Linda Park, who oversees electronic media: 

“I’m somewhat confused by the below. For 10 straight years, we have always received one free music badge, with the option to buy additional badges/wristbands at the press discounted rate. Can you tell me why we are now only able to buy a press wristband?”

Ms. Park responded (and I am paraphrasing here, in that there is a “do not reveal the contents of this email” warning) that each year they need to re-evaluate attendees in response to fewer resources and increased attendance. Got that? We are making more money and have less time to deal with the people who helped make us popular. 

Laura responded: “Thanks for getting back to me. While I understand changing guidelines for new applicants, I feel that press outlets that have received badges/passes in the past should be covered, as they have fulfilled their press obligations to SXSW for years—not to mention spent thousands of dollars of their own money for second badges, travel, lodging, etc. It’s a very unfortunate decision, to be sure, and one that, sadly, cannot help but leave a bad taste in our mouths.”

Not sure what will come of this. As a nonprofit publication, we don’t have a budget to buy wristbands (which apparently have the added value of getting you into a club last, after all badge-holders have made their way in, and do not include access to the panels or trade show) and our writers, who  are already footing the bill to travel and stay in Austin, will now have to take on this added expense.

I would accept this as a slight from SXSW because we are not a print publication, but we are a web outlet that has only improved over the years. We are up to date and filled with great writers. Also, we have a strong and growing audience (averaging between 50,000 and 60,000 unique visits a month with 4 million hits—and, at its highest print run, PLAYBACK:stl ran 15,000 copies). So why is SXSW kicking us to the curb? And what could they possibly hope to achieve by making it practically impossible for us to participate? 

We’ll let you know their response. | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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