July 8th, 2010 by Sumit
I have a story to tell. A sad story, a hilarious story, a story that will make you laugh and cry at the same time (but mostly cry). To most of you, it will likely not be a surprising story, and one you’ve probably been through many times. Yet it will still make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, and your innocent, music-loving blood will boil with rage. Then again, perhaps you’re one of those lucky folks whose musical interests are such that you can avoid the terrible TicketMaster, whose fearsome claws go snicker-snack (snacking on your wallet-snickers, that is) – but most likely you’re not.
So here it is. One of my favorite acts, the Glitch Mob, will be playing at the Showbox Downtown on June 5 (event details). Hooray! J and I were very excited, and I volunteered to get the tickets. Since I live in Capitol Hill and the I take home from work stops within a few blocks of the venue, I went down to the box office to get my tickets: $21.00 a piece, with a $2.00 ticket fee; a total of $23 per ticket or $46 for the both of us. Not bad at all for a great show. The $21.00 is split between the band, the concert promoters, and the venue (not TicketMaster, according to the wikipedia article); the $2 is a mystery fee which is likely going to TM, but it’s pretty small. As a bonus, I walked by beautiful Pike Place, saw a guy standing on his amp belting out wacky blues music, and strolled about the city that I love on a typically damp April day.
Then, for my entertainment, I decided to look up what the price would have been had I bought the tickets online. In a process most of you are familiar with, you can’t just click on the link for the concert and get the price – first you select your tickets, then you wait a while, and then you see $21.00. Yay! But that’s just the base price for the ticket. And then you see the $8.65 convenience charge per ticket, and then the additional $0.44 in additional tickets due to the convenience charge. So now instead of $23 a ticket, it’s $30.09, so a total of $60.18 per ticket. Then it looks like you’re done, and you just have to enter your email/password to go further. But we’re not done, no no no! Once you enter your info, there’s an additional order processing fee of $5.94, a TicketFast Delivery charge of $2.50 (this is the cheapest option – you’re paying $2.50 for the privilege of printing the ticket at home), and some more taxes of $0.13. So now we’re at $34.38 per ticket or 68.75 for two tickets. Had you bought only one ticket, it would have been even worse, since all the final fees would apply – i.e., $38.66 per ticket (ok, maybe a few cents less in tax, but literally only a few cents). Folks, that’s an 84% markup from the original ticket price.
So let’s think about this. There’s nothing on the ticket that prevents you from reselling it (in fact, they only take cash, so they can’t track your ticket) – some individual states have limitations on ticket resale (ironically, in PA, you can only resell a ticket for $5 or 25% more than the face value). So, an enterprising and trustworthy person in the community could buy up tickets at the box office and then sell them for, say, $30 a ticket, still make $7 a ticket, but undercut the TicketMaster price by $8.66 (and use the money for something more useful, presumably, like paying their rent). I’m not the one who’s going to do this, but I definitely see an opportunity for some enterprising person to take this on. Is TicketMaster trying to prevent this? Of course! Remember that $2.50 print-it-yourself cheapest delivery option? The awesome thing about that is that it ties the ticket to your name/ID, and they require you to show ID at the door that matches the ticket – i.e., no resales of that tickets.
So why did I say “terrible yet amazing” in my title? They’re amazing because they can pull this shit off. They are charging you – me – us – an 84% markup, and we’re accepting it (for the most part), and with good reason. They control access to nearly every worthwhile venue. What’s even more brilliant is that they have us thinking they’re entirely to blame. “Oh Ticketmaster, I hate them!!” is a much sanitized version of a commonly uttered epithet amongst concert goers. Well – have you ever wondered why so many of your favorite venues use Ticketmaster? Because the venues get huge kickbacks from Ticketmaster (you can read more about this on the wikipedia article, as well as this much more frothing-at-the-mouth assessment of their business practices). Ticketmaster even tells the venue (perhaps not in so many words), “you can tell them to hate us, that your hands are tied, it’s that evil Ticketmaster, etc.” Is it evil? Yes. Is it price-gouging? Yes. Is it also brilliant? Yes.
Is there anything you can do about it? No. Congresscritters have tried, British parliament has tried, Canadian parliament has tried, not to much avail. Well, that’s not quite true – there is something you can do. You can take a rainy afternoon and have a nice trip down to the Showbox, or Neumo’s, or wherever, and get your tickets in person - a big shout out to those venues for letting us do that. Who knows – if you’re lucky, you might hear some awesome, wacky blues music on your way in. And if you’re really lucky, like I was when I went to get tickets for Bassnectar last summer, you might even hear that night’s band (in my case, the Shins), practicing for their evening show