The Business of Circus Performing
Many people are under the mistaken impression that the business of circus performing is just about hypnotizing chickens and making them play the piano. This is not true. There are many other performances, such as fire-eating, puppet-mastering and concertina-playing. In order to get in to see the performace, you pay a fee, part of which goes to the puppet master, part to the fire-eater, but never any to the chickens who play the piano. Those are my chickens, I own them, damnit.
We're Supposed to be Different, Dammit
Busking is the term given to us by our English mates. In New York City it would be called begging, or as the bleeding-hearts like to call it, street performing. If it were done on the web, it would be called profiteering, or by those same bleeding-hearts, fundraising. In any case, the idea is that we provide the entertainment, and out of the kindness of your hearts, you return the favor with your hard earned cash. Never-mind all the work that's done by the chickens. They voluntarily play the piano and are provided with plenty of chicken-feed in return.
Income vs. Expenses: The Steel-Cage Match of the Century
The two biggest factors any company needs to account for are income and expenses. Everything else is basically details. These two forces will always determine whether a company lives or dies. Circus performing is not a complex business, so here is the annotated guide to both sides of our ledger sheet.
The major expenses in a circus act are people and chickens. Our act is no different, except that the chickens are donated to us by the NRA in return for our advertisement of their famous chicken shooting range. What's left is the cost of the bikes to take us from town to town and the salary of our employees.
We have cut costs to the bone, and have only one employee who performs as fire-eater, puppet-master, concertina-player, and chicken-hypnotiser.
So what does it cost? With the massive elimination of expenses, to the point where this whole circus [SIC!] can get by comfortably on simply the cost of a single full time employee, our annual budget works out to about $70,000. That includes my salary, corporate and payroll taxes, and all miscellaneous expenses, such as accounting, bookkeeping, legal costs, and the occasional replacement bicycle tires. It should be clear that this budget is paltry by corporate standards, and probably equals half of what most circuses spend on lawnmowing in a year.
The other side of the coin is income. We've tried a number of things in the past, including spraypainting the chickens purple and yellow and spelling out YAHOO! on their foreheads, recording the chicken songs, putting them on napster, and then suing anyone who downloads it from us, and a limited subscription scheme. Our current income comes from only one source: premium memberships.
Premium memberships in Indus5rious (a play on the founder, Emily's name) permission to leave after the main show and before the NRA portion of the show, alerts you by email when one of the chickens takes a shit, and gives you a lyrics sheet so you can sing along to all the chicken showtunes. It's really too early to tell yet with these, but so far, I'm not too optimistic. We only need 1,458.3333333333333333333333333 subscriptions in order to get to our $70,000 target, but for some reason only 3 people have signed up so far. If each of the people who have seen our act had only pitched in 17.3 cents, we'd have already reached our target.
Irony Can Be... So Ironic Sometimes
Someone sold my fucking bike. There's a story about it on Yahoo, but needless to say, I walked into the British Heart Foundation shop in Edinburgh, went into the changing room, and came out to find my bike stolen. The bike was worth $1,800, and I don't have that kind of money.
So, What Now?
So what happens now? As you may imagine, I've chewed over it 24/7 for a couple weeks. It's been coming for months, so I've had plenty of time. Below is my current list of options, with pros and cons.
Somehow convince enough of you that the my circus act is worth a few bucks for the enjoyment and information you get from it.
Pros: Circus act lives, I get to do what I'm good at, which is helping people and making children laugh.
Cons: Hasn't worked so far. Requires an unheard-of 1500 of you to pony up. There are 1500 of you who could, but I doubt you all will.
Emily gets a "real" job.
Pros: Will likely be able to pay bills, avoid premature ulcers.
Cons: The circus act as a hobby would suck. I would have far less time and energy to devote to maintenance and improvements. I have no idea how long I'd be able or willing to maintain the act and work full time.
I find some ad network that will pay to spraypaint the chickens.
Pros: Well, it's income.
Cons: Everyone, including myself, and especially the chickens hates this solution. As noted above, the prospect of selling you to advertisers doesn't sit very well with me. Feels like the "give up" option. Not very likely, these days, there's anyone who would pay enough to make it meet budget.
Sell I5 Inc.
Pros: Find a partner who can take over the "running a business" aspect of the act, allows me to do what I'm good at and not worry so much about money.
Cons: "Selling out" increases likelihood that I5 loses the community aspect that makes it unique and valuable. Loss of trust that I've managed to build up by being a human being instead of a faceless corporation. And who the hell is buying circus acts these days? Probably impossible in the first place.
Some other crazy scheme
Pros: No shortage of them.
Cons: They all require me to basically be in a business I have no interest in being in. I.e. the "selling t-shirts and knick-knacks" business, the "providing chickens to KFC" business, and so forth. End up reducing to "get a real job" without being a job I want to get.
So there you have it. I don't know what to do. I need to get a new bike before I can perform any more acts. At the moment, "get a job" seems to be the front-runner by default, simply because I know that it's possible. In any case, this is where we stand. If nothing else, I hope it was an informative look into the rather difficult economics of operating a circus act like this.
Large parts of this story have been stolen from Rusty's copyrighted work. Fortunately, congress hasn't completely removed fair use just yet. I'm sure they're working on it.