More experienced readers will recall the era when Spotlight was a print publication, for which, rightly or wrongly, many actors seem to have felt more comfortable paying an annual fee. As the world has turned digital, so Spotlight’s business model has adapted to provide the same service online.
It’s understandable that there’s been such a passionate response to Spotlight’s proposals. In particular, their reported plans to place health and well-being support behind a paywall seem to have caused grave concerns, touching a nerve as we as a country grapple with the seemingly relentless incursion of private medicine into our healthcare system.
In many ways, Spotlight has perhaps been a victim of its own success, playing such a vital role in the professional dramatic arts in the UK that it has become more or less mandatory for actors, producers and casting directors alike.
It’s not unique in that sense – in fact, we see examples everywhere of commercial products carving such a niche that they become practically indispensable: Google, Amazon, Uber, Facebook. It’s no coincidence that world leaders fall over themselves to spend time with Elon Musk , when for example they rely on Starlink to carry out their nations’ military operations. It’s not a situation which seems particularly healthy for anyone involved.
Current conventional business wisdom suggests that cross-selling and upselling services to your existing customer base is a far surer road to success than trying to recruit new customers from elsewhere. (Many in the subsidised arts sector will find it ironic that funding bodies seem to insist they follow that latter, seemingly unviable, business strategy.) So Spotlight are far from unique in identifying this as a profitable way forward.
But care has to be taken when a service has grown to be so vital to establishing and maintaining a career and livelihood, particularly in an industry where the socioeconomic barriers to success have been getting ever more daunting over recent years. Spotlight is hardly the only culprit here, and there are many other bricks in the formidable wall facing actors from less privileged backgrounds as they start out on, or try to sustain their careers.
Spotlight have announced that they’re taking a pause to reflect on their plans, and let’s hope that leads to a more thoughtful, equitable version. If the whole performing arts industry did likewise, we might well end up in a better place.