Are UK festivals in decline this year?

eFestivals statistics tend to disagree

published: Fri 7th Sep 2012

around the festival site (7)

eFestivals often gets asked if festivals are in decline, and it's a question that's repeatedly asked following a few high profile cancellations, and the fact the media are making the general public more aware of those that are cancelled than they have previously.

around the festival site (7)
So eFestivals decided to have a look at the figures, and see whether based on the figures this year was as bad as many pundits are declaring. It is true that this year has indeed resulted in more festivals being cancelled than eFestivals has ever had to publish before, there were 19 more festivals cancelled this year than the average (38 festivals a year) of the last five years.

Below are the number of festivals in the UK (excluding N. Ireland) cancelled (as listed by eFestivals) each year for the last six years, including this year. This is then represented as a percentage of the total number of festivals we had listed for that year.

number cancelled in 2012: 57 of 929 = 6.13%
number cancelled in 2011: 40 of 934 = 4.28%
number cancelled in 2010: 36 of 801 = 4.49%
number cancelled in 2009: 41 of 710 = 5.77%
number cancelled in 2008: 43 of 633 = 6.79%
number cancelled in 2007: 31 of 496 = 6.25%

The total number of festivals eFestivals listed from 2007 until 2009 is much less, but this isn't because there were much fewer events about. This is down to the fact eFestivals provides a much more accurate picture of which festivals are out there these days compared to that period. The increase in numbers is not only due to new events, but because many established events have also been brought to our attention.

There are close to a 1,000 music related festivals of all sizes a year now and I'd say whilst our figures don't reflect it that has probably been the case ever since 2008.

The number of new events launched each year has been pretty similar throughout this period. There was a big boom in new festivals in the years before 2007, but it has stabilised over the last five years.

However conversely it's also likely that there were more festivals cancelled than were brought to our attention, and so our figures as a percentage are probably an accurate reflection of the state of the festival industry for each year.

Whilst this year has been much higher. This year exactly a dozen festivals have cited the weather as a reason for their cancellation with 8 of these cancelled due to a flooded site. Taking these 12 festivals out of the equation delivers a figure for 2012 of 4.84%.

The percentages point to an interesting conclusion, festivals are not in decline but instead for the last three years around 4.5% of UK festivals have had to cancel each year.

By far the highest percent of cancellations happened when the festival 'bubble' burst in 2007/8 (the year incidentally that Glastonbury Festival struggled to sell tickets). It was at this time that the festival market reached saturation point, and cancellations were in proportional terms higher than they are now. And, this was at a time that had slightly better (although not dissimilar) recorded weather throughout the summer than we have had this year, although no festivals (as far as I'm aware) were cancelled due to flooding in that muddy year.

So it probably won't be a surprise next year to when there's around 45 events cancel, it won't mean the festival scene is in decline, it seems to be the natural order of things year on year. Although, you will have to wait until this time next year to see if that's right.

Of course, this doesn't take into account trends in what people want from a festival or the number of festival goers attending festivals. It could mean that amongst those 45 festivals there's another large scale, high profile event cancelled to be replaced by a smaller scale event, or conversely a large scale event may launch next year with a small scale event cancelling. However it pans out, it does appear to reveal there's a certain stability in the industry, and that can only be a good thing for the future of festivals.

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