Pollstar trades in information.
Specifically, the Fresno-based trade publication trades information related to the live-music industry. If you're interested in how much money Madonna made the last time she came through Fresno, let's say, Pollstar has it. It was more than $4 million, gross.
"That was pretty significant," says Gary Smith, chief operating officer for Pollstar, whose world-wide headquarters sits in a nondescript office park just off Shaw Avenue and Highway 99 in Fresno.
Incorporated in 1981 as Promoters Online Listings, the business pioneered the field of concert-data tracking by collecting box-office receipts and sharing the information with music industry leaders.
Today, the magazine is the industry standard. It has a readership of 15,000 and collects data from 3,500 contacts on venues of all sizes — from a 200-seat jazz club to 1,000-seat halls and theaters to the world's largest arenas.
Pollstar's information is used by everyone from touring bands, venue managers and promoters to Wall Street analysts and the Justice Department, which finds the information especially useful when investigating anti-trust issues, such as Ticketmaster's merger with Live Nation in 2010. Pollstar is a member of the Associated Press and is on file in the Library of Congress.
In addition to the print magazine, the company operates the websites pollstarpro.com and pollstar.com.
Pollstarpro.com is designed for those in the industry. It is subscription based, with comprehensive information similar to what is in print.
Pollstar.com, which can get up to 6 million page views each month, is a free site designed for fans. Here, you'll find the latest concert news — which artists have announced tours, where and when the bands play, when tickets go on sale and how much tickets will cost.
"We give a heads up," says Jay Smith, pollstar.com's managing editor. "Not so much what's happening this weekend, but what's going to be happening the first weekend in December."
Before Pollstar, this kind of information was hard to find. What you could find was inconsistent and often inaccurate.
Smith and his partner, Gary Bongiovanni, spent the first half year in business just creating a reliable information network. They reached out to venues, managers and booking agents they had met while working in the industry themselves.
Smith was a concert promoter, having booked bands like The Who and the Rolling Stones in Fresno. Bongiovanni was an agent at William Morris.
"That's ground that we sort of pioneered," says Bongiovanni, Pollstar's editor-in-chief. "Before that it was handled by PR agents."
As they collected the data, it was computerized (almost unheard of at the time) in a form that could be printed in dot-matrix, folded and sent as overnight mail. The result was essentially a weekly tip-sheet.
"It wasn't particularly attractive, but we had information that was really useful and timely," Smith says.
There were other magazines that had similar information — Billboard, for example — but it was often dated, by a month at least, Smith says.
Pollstar was quick to adapt to new technologies, which allowed for faster and easier access to information. By 1984, its owners were using a dial-up network for electronic publishing.
Pollstar went online in 1994.
In the last 10 years, the company has worked to further extend its reach. It opened an office in London and is now getting box office data from around the globe.
The type and amount of data the company collects gives Pollstar readers a unique glimpse into the industry.
"It serves kind of like the daily newspaper," says Steve Tadlock, the regional manager for SMG, which operates Fresno's Save Mart Center.
For example, you could see country music explode in popularity as the genre became more contemporary with artists such as Garth Brooks and Rascal Flatts, Smith says.
You could see grunge bubble up.
And in the past few years, EDM (Electronic Dance Music) has seen a steady increase in ticket sales.
This ability to spot the next big thing is an asset to the industry and something the company focuses on at the annual conference it has hosted since 1995.
All of this information is more useful than ever, Bongiovanni says. The live music industry has seen big changes in the last decade. Promoting concerts, which used to be mostly a mom-and-pop operation, has become very much a corporate business.
"It requires a great deal of capital now," he says. "You can lose a lot of money in one night."
Pollstar allows Tadlock to track touring musicians and look for holes in their schedules for dates he might be able to book at the Save Mart Center. More than that, it allows him to see the types of acts that work for this market — country music for example — or track how well an artist has done in the market in the past.
And because the network of reporting is so comprehensive because most in the industry report to and follow the magazine, you really get a sense of how you are doing, compared to your peers, Tadlock says.
"It's as apples to apples as you can get," he says.
In the community
There is a larger community benefit, as well.
Each quarter Pollstar puts out a list of the top tours and venues. Save Mart Center has consistently been on its list of top arenas. It was in the Top 100 arenas for worldwide ticket sales in 2013, alongside venues such as the Perth Arena in Australia and Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"Having that comparative has a good effect in the community," Tadlock says.
And, Pollstar itself is very much a local company — one that seems to have no intention of leaving, Tadlock says.
"They could have picked up and moved their offices at any time," he says.
Having Pollstar as an employer has a good effect on Fresno's music community.
The company has long been known for being the day job for many local players. John Clifton from the MoFo Party Band worked there. Let's Go Bowling bassist Mark Michel still does.
"The joke is if it wasn't for Pollstar, half these people wouldn't have jobs," Smith says.
It's true. Music-industry jobs aren't easy to come by in Fresno, says Bradley Rogers, a local musician and the magazine's box-office editor. He was the company's 13th employee.
"To have a way cool media job in the Valley is a perk," he says.
Pollstar: A music industry trade publication. Available by subscription or online at Pollstar.com and Pollstarpro.com
Incorporated: 1981 as Promoters Online Listings
Number of employees: 50
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Joshuathee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com