If yesterday’s Ticket Masters: They Might Be Giants panel was clear on one thing, it was that there’s got to be a better way. Summed up by speaker Dean Budnick as “a truly fascinating house of cards,” the new frontier of concert ticketing was debated by the very people who just might be able to change it.
Ticketfly’s Chip Thomas pointed out that a decade ago, music fans went to about five times as many shows as they do now, a statistic he called “ridiculous” and blamed on high service fees. He said affordability is a big part of why people aren’t attending concerts like they used to. Josh Baron, Budnick’s co-author on the book Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry And How The Public Got Scalped, pointed out that 40 percent of tickets go unsold every year, and lack of affordability might be one of the reasons why.
Rian Rochford of Topspin Media said that her company aims to let the artist sell tickets directly to its fans, thereby cutting out some of the service fees. “Fans don’t care about the technology of the transaction,” she said. “They just want to buy direct from the artist.” Trying out alternative ticketing systems can be risky though, and as Brooklyn Bowl owner Peter Shapiro pointed out, “A fail-safe idea is crucial.” A big show with a ticketing problem is a nightmare, not only for the promoter, but for the band. In our culture of social media, fans can communicate with one another and the band themselves about how unhappy they are with a ticketing situation.
“It’s such a bloodbath when you have a fan at the venue going, ‘I bought my ticket, what is happening?’” said Rochford. Still, Baron noted that while it’s easy to shake a fist at Ticketmaster (“Historically, they didn’t care,” noted Budnick), the company is just a business doing what it’s told. Since scalping is another reason fans often find themselves spending exorbitant amounts on tickets, many promoters are now trying out the idea of paperless tickets. This way the tickets end up in the hands of the fans, but if a fan ends up unable to attend the show, this poses a problem. (Stub Hub, an online ticket resale outlet, also argues that it is a fan’s right to be able to resell their ticket.) Thomas said he thinks “mobile and paperless ticketing are here to stay,” while Billy Geoghegan of Brown Paper Tickets said he thinks physical tickets aren’t going anywhere. According to Shapiro, the real way to fight scalpers and ticket system robots is to go ultimately lo-fi by selling tickets in person.
There was also much ado about the idea of dynamic pricing, which allows ticket prices to fluctuate based on a variety of conditions, such as the weather or how close to sold out the show is, much like the way airline seat costs go up and down depending on the day. (Earlier this year, Ticketmaster announced that it would try out dynamic pricing.) Thomas said he thinks this system is the next evolution in ticketing, while Shapiro said this would never work for a club show, and that it would look bad if a band’s front row seats sold cheaply because of dynamic pricing. As with many of the ticket-related issues debated in this panel, it seems only time will tell.