Ticket Touts Aren’t The Problem – Greedy Artists Are

As an avid gig goer, I know all-too-well how frustrating it is not to get tickets to a band you really want to see. As someone who has been a Bruce Springsteen fan since I was a teenager it becomes particularly frustrating when an artist becomes “legendary”.

Whenever tickets to a hugely high-demand event go on sale it’s certain that within minutes of tickets being sold out huge numbers of them appear on aftermarket. This understandably leads to outrage among those fans who missed out that something they attempted to buy five minutes ago is now being sold at as much as ten times the price.

The focus of public vitriol are invariably ticket touts, companies like Ticketmaster, and aftermarket sellers like GetMeIn and SeatWave; while comparatively little ire is directed towards greedy artists who also profit from aftermarkets.

It’s astonishing how many avowed free-marketers suddenly have a problem with the free market when they don’t get U2 tickets. Fine Gael TD Noel Rock has proposed a bill to outlaw selling tickets at above face value. Many right-wingers have described the practice as “profiteering”, which so far as I can tell simply means making a profit in a way they disapprove of. Those who make these arguments usually do so largely in ignorance of how the music industry actually works.

A Glastonbury ticket with photo ID

There is, of course, no need to legislate to prevent ticket touting. It’s perfectly easy for artists and promoters to stop touting of their tickets, should they so wish. When you go to a Radiohead gig you have to present the credit card with which you bought the tickets, much like at a train station. Glastonbury passes include a photographic ID. With the advent of e-ticketing and tickets you print off yourself it’s perfectly possible to only release tickets on the day of the gig, which would eliminate all but the very last-minute touting at the venue gates. So given that it’s actually so easy for artists and promoters to stop touting – why don’t they? The answer is simple: it’s the artists and promoters who are the biggest racketeers of the lot.

It’s normal practice for artists and promoters to hold back a large proportion of tickets from the primary sale. In one reported instance Justin Bieber held back 92% of the tickets for a gig from the public – meaning a paltry 940 out of 12,000 seats were sold as normal, face-value tickets.

Almost as soon as ticket sales close there are hundreds of them on aftermarkets such as SeatWave at massively inflated prices. It’s implausible to the point of near-impossibility that so many tickets could be on sale so quickly by touts. It’s highly probable that the vast majority of those tickets (possibly even all of them) are tickets that were never on sale to the public in the first place.

The problem, of course, is that the tickets in the primary market are vastly under-priced given the demand. Consequently, whether or not you actually get tickets isn’t the product of a functioning marketplace – it’s a lottery. The demand for U2 tickets would have been significantly lower had they been priced at €200, rather than €70 – but this would have made U2 look greedy. Alternatively, a more transparent way of pricing tickets would be similar to the way that airlines price seats on planes: the first seat sold is £1; the last seat is £200 – because there are always people who will pay well over-the-odds to get that flight in an emergency. So too will there be fans who will pay ridiculous prices to see these bands – the aftermarket wouldn’t exist if there weren’t. But again, this would be quite transparent, and artists’ greed would be plain for all to see.

So the secretive aftermarket provides the perfect cover, and a patsy-to boot: the touts. Artists get to look like they’ve priced the tickets fairly, and greedy touts get the blame for profiteering. But the reality is that the real profiteers (look, I’m doing it now) are the artists and their promoters.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame because you didn’t get U2 tickets don’t blame touts – it almost certainly wasn’t them. Blame greedy U2 and their promoters LiveNation – who, by happy coincidence, also own Ticketmaster, SeatWave, and GetMeIn.