IT is the festival that keeps on getting bigger.

This year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe is once again even larger in size and scale than the year before: the 2019 programme, launched today, includes 3,841 shows, up from 3,548 in 2018, and 59,600 performances, up from 56,796.

The programme has a record 63 countries represented, and more than 700 free shows, with more than 400 'pay what you want' shows, an increase from 260 last year.

In the Fringe programme there are also 963 Scottish shows, with 744 coming from Edinburgh.

Once again the Fringe, which will run from 2 to 26 August, will be a perhaps overwhelming festival of theatre, dance, circus, physical theatre, comedy, music, musicals and opera, cabaret and variety, children’s shows, spoken word, free shows, exhibitions and other events.

The sheer scale of the festival is one again sure to spark debate over the size of the festival, and how it effects the capital in which it is based.

Last year, the Fringe issued 2.8 million tickets, a record, 5% higher than 2017.

This year, it is on course, at the current rate of growth, to sell or distribute three million tickets.

READ MORE: Is it time to call a halt on the expansion of the Festivals?

This year the Fringe Society, which runs the annual festival in August, has introduced a new feature, the Inspiration Machine, "an interactive, arcade-style machine that will randomly display videos from Fringe artists at the push of a button."

It will be on the Mound throughout August as well as online.

The street events will once again return to the Royal Mile and the Mound Precinct, managed by the Fringe Society and sponsored by Virgin Money.

There will be more than 250 shows a day on the Royal Mile.

There are some new venues for the Fringe this year, including two in Leith, Quality Yard, near the Shore, a street art exhibition space, while The Old Dr Bells Baths makes use of a newly renovated former swimming pool on Great Junction Street.

Tynecastle Park, the home ground of Hearts FC, returns to host A War of Two Halves, while on a smaller scale, the performers behind theatre show Arthur are creating their own venue, Your Home, asking audience members to open their doors and host the show.

Well known names at the Fringe this year include Frances Barber, with a one woman show and original songs by the Pet Shop Boys, Kathy Burke directing Honest Amy, and Podrick from Game of Thrones, Daniel Portman.

READ MORE: The constant expansion of the Edinburgh festivals

BAFTA and MOBO award-winning hip-hop artist and writer Akala brings spoken word show Akala – In Conversation – Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, while actress and activist Rose McGowan, who will combine memoir and music in her Fringe debut Planet 9.

This year also marks first time at the Fringe for Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman, and, in his first show at the Fringe for 25 years, Craig Ferguson.

Making his first ever Fringe appearance is children’s TV icon Basil Brush.

The LBC broadcaster and CNN commentator Iain Dale will bring his show Iain Dale: All Talk, with guests including Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan and Baroness Warsi, and the award-winning writer and musician Darren McGarvey, also known as Loki, will also stage a show, Scotland Today.

Other names will include Nish Kumar, Reginald D Hunter, Daniel Sloss, Ronnie Ancona and Lewis Macleod.

Global warming and the effects on our planet is one of the big themes at the Fringe this year, and the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is being read in full by 100 different people during 1.5 Degrees Live! - a 50-hour event spread over five days.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “The Fringe is a remarkable feat of engineering and human endeavour, and this year we are celebrating all the artists, writers, crew, staff, venue operators, audience members and more who come together to Make Your Fringe.

"This year’s festival will feature 744 shows from Edinburgh, 963 from Scotland and work from a record 63 countries, which collectively help make the Fringe the greatest celebration of arts and culture on the planet.

"From the growing threat of global warming to the personal stories of migrants making a new home in a strange land; the 50th anniversary of the moon landings to exploring sex and true crime stories, this year’s programme will challenge perceptions, stimulate conversation, entertain, make you laugh, make you cry and inspire you."

READ MORE: The Fringe and the Festivals and their affects on Edinburgh

Fiona Hyslop, the culture secretary, said that the Fringe was an "economic powerhouse, generating £144 million for the Edinburgh economy and £173 million for Scotland’s economy."

Cllr Donald Wilson, culture convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Yet again the Edinburgh Festival Fringe promises to enthral, entertain and educate audiences young and old across the capital.

"This year’s Fringe programme offers something for everyone, regardless of their age or interests, and I particularly welcome the Inspiration Machine as a means of boosting exposure of all that is on offer and the new FringeMaker game which will encourage even further participation."

The council has, however, noted the impact of the Festivals - as a whole - upon the city.

A recent council report, Managing Our Festival City, notes: "Edinburgh during the summer festival period is a busy, noisy, and often crowded place.

"Whilst this is clearly part of the festival experience, it is now widely acknowledged that the experience of Edinburgh during the summer festival time could be significantly improved, for residents and for visitors.

"A more coordinated set of measures is now required to respond to the demands of managing our Festival City."