Ticket scalping: My commentary on Trent Reznor’s post

It dates from 2009 March, but I just recently found a nin.com forum post where Trent Reznor rants a bit about ticket scalpers. Trent really explains everything that’s wrong with the current system of Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and the venues they partner with.

Loaded or not, I’m using the word “scalpers” to refer to ticket resellers. I believe ticket resale above face value is bad for the fans of artists who just want to see the show and is inherently an evil and greedy practice.

I’m going to quote bits and pieces of the post here and add my thoughts:

NIN decides to tour this summer. We arrive at the conclusion outdoor amphitheaters are the right venue for this outing, for a variety of reasons we’ve throughly considered*. In the past, NIN would sell the shows in each market to local promoters, who then “buy” the show from us to sell to you. Live Nation happens to own all the amphitheaters and bought most of the local promoters – so if you want to play those venues, you’re being promoted by Live Nation.

This smacks of anti-competitive behavior. Except for the fact this appears to primarily be occurring on a local level, I’m surprised the DOJ hasn’t stepped in to stop these shenanigans. Maybe they still can.

Now we get into the issue of secondary markets for tickets, which is the hot issue here. The ticketing marketplace for rock concerts shows a real lack of sophistication, meaning this: the true market value of some tickets for some concerts is much higher than what the act wants to be perceived as charging. For example, there are some people who would be willing to pay $1,000 and up to be in the best seats for various shows, but MOST acts in the rock / pop world don’t want to come off as greedy pricks asking that much, even though the market says its value is that high. The acts know this, the venue knows this, the promoters know this, the ticketing company knows this and the scalpers really know this. So…

As usual in the music business, the actual artists are the good guys here. The venue, promoters, and ticketing company who also know this are the ones that see nothing but dollar signs. How many of you would honestly pay a $500 to $1,000 face value plus fees (the latter of which I have ranted about before)?!

“Market value” is a rather touchy subject. I believe the so-called market value does not always represent a truly fair deal for everyone. The scalpers love being able to resell tickets at markups approaching 80% of face value, or beyond in some cases (that is, $250 for $50 tickets, where the markup is 80% of the scalper’s price). In fact, a 95% markup for scalpers is not entirely unheard of.

The venue, the promoter, the ticketing agency and often the artist camp (artist, management and agent) take tickets from the pool of available seats and feed them directly to the re-seller (which from this point on will be referred to by their true name: SCALPER). I am not saying every one of the above entities all do this, nor am I saying they do it for all shows but this is a very common practice that happens more often than not. There is money to be made and they feel they should participate in it. There are a number of scams they employ to pull this off which is beyond the scope of this note.

Note Trent’s use of the word “scams.” I think that more than adequately summarizes what is going on here, but of course, the real devil is in the details because that’s where we figure out what can be done about it.

Here’s the rub: Ticketmaster has essentially been a monopoly for many years – certainly up until Live Nation’s exclusive deal ran out. They could have (and can right now) stop the secondary market dead in its tracks by doing the following: limit the amount of sales per customer, print names on the tickets and require ID / ticket matches at the venue.

So we know there’s a solution. Ticketmaster has the power to make the concert ticket buying experience a much better and fairer one for fans who are honestly getting screwed by the current system.

We know this works because we do it for our pre-sales. Why don’t THEY do it? It’s obvious – they make a lot of money fueling the secondary market. TicketMaster even bought a re-seller site and often bounces you over to that site to buy tickets (TicketsNow.com)!

So, it’s not enough for Ticketmaster to make their money by being in cahoots with the scalpers these days. They now own some of the scalpers too! Can you say “greedy?”

NIN gets 10% of the available seats for our own pre-sale. We won a tough (and I mean TOUGH) battle to get the best seats. We require you to sign up at our site (for free) to get tickets. We limit the amount you can buy, we print your name on the tickets and we have our own person let you in a separate entrance where we check your ID to match the ticket. We charge you a surcharge that has been less than Ticketmaster’s or Live Nation’s in all cases so far to pay for the costs of doing this – it’s not a profit center for us. We have essentially stopped scalping by doing these things – because we want true fans to be able to get great seats and not get ripped off by these parasites.

I assure you nobody in the NIN camp supplies or supports the practice of supplying tickets to these re-sellers because it’s not something we morally feel is the right thing to do. We are leaving money on the table here but it’s not always about money.

The NIN camp is doing a commendable thing here. It’s not always about money. To be fair, even Ticketmaster, in the months since this was written, appears to have rolled out paperless ticketing at least for some shows. I’d like to think this is not just a passing fad.

The bitter irony here is that the arts scene (orchestra, ballet, opera, etc.) has always fought the perception of being expensive. The most expensive ticket for a SPA (Society for the Performing Arts) show this season is $65; it wouldn’t surprise me if something somewhere goes into triple digits ($100+) per ticket, but I’d expect that to be rather rare.

On the other hand I’m pretty sure $100 for a rock concert ticket is frighteningly common.

My guess as to what will eventually happen if / when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merges is that they’ll move to an auction or market-based pricing scheme – which will simply mean it will cost a lot more to get a good seat for a hot show. They will simply BECOME the scalper, eliminating them from the mix.

I certainly hope this doesn’t happen. This would be a truly bad thing for the fans. I believe tickets should be available at a fair, fixed, affordable price.

I don’t see arts organizations ever doing this. You rock concert guys want to go to auction-based pricing? Fine. I’ve always wanted to see the Wortham Center and similar venues sell out for a ballet or opera. And it’s not to say that most of the younger set will suddenly dump rock for Bach. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing, however, for the evil concert cartel to shoot themselves in the foot and for a few in the younger set to wind up really getting some culture in the process (and I don’t mean a fad yogurt diet, either).

The ultimate way to hurt scalpers is to not support them. Leave them holding the merchandise.

I feel for the artists that will play to half-empty venues because the fans that just want to pay a fair price to see the show are unable to because the scalpers have bought up all the tickets, and refuse to support a system that is so corrupt it almost makes the Mafia look squeaky clean.

In summary, I wish Trent and NIN the best of luck in the good fight, and hope that Ticketmaster is truly serious about stopping scalpers instead of just making a token effort to try to shut up people like me. My regular readers should know by now how I feel about censorship and insincerity; if I encounter either, this won’t be the last rant about the industry.

An e-mail too good not to show off

I recently responded to an e-mail from an advertising bureau, asking if I was offering advertising opportunities on this blog right here.

I sent this reply, suspecting this might well be thinly veiled spam, but offering the benefit of the doubt that it might actually have been hand-typed and hand-sent.

This may or may not apply to the direction this blog will take in the future; it certainly applies to the way I’ve been posting to this blog over most of the past year. Of course, by the time some of you see this in the archives, it’ll no longer be at shawnkquinn.com but at some other domain name I’m still deciding on.

The original text portion of my reply follows. I simply felt it too good not to post and share. Comments are welcome, as always.

Most of the brutal honesty in my blog comes from the fact I do not have to worry about annoying sponsors. Were I to consider monetizing this blog, it would be done in other ways such as merchandise sales.

I also have serious doubts that advertising will “enhance [my] online users experience” as you put it. The people I have talked to seem to indicate they are more annoyed than attracted by ads.

Thanks for your interest, but I simply don’t see selling ads on shawnkquinn.com as viable.

The only constant is change

And now, a few brief words about other efforts of mine, which I have not yet brought to the forefront here. I try not to do this often; in fact, I think this is the first time I’ve made a post like this here, ever.

For those of you who do not follow what I do all around cyberspace, I started a local (Houston, TX, area) events blog about two months ago now called Quinn’s Big City (referred to as QBC for brevity). I’m going to explain a bit about QBC, how it relates to what I do on this blog, and what both mean for the future. And yes, as much as I talk about QBC in this post, this post itself belongs here, not on QBC, for the simple reason of preserving the latter’s intended role.

I was hesitant to post about QBC here at least prior to the official wide launch, scheduled carefully after the soft-launch so as to give me time to “get in my groove” and realize the full potential of what I had started. I meant to make this post here at least a week ago, partly to explain why my posting volume here fell off, partly to introduce the few people who haven’t already heard about QBC somewhere.

And I know what you are probably asking already. Yes, QBC is a large part of the reason I don’t post here as often. I’m not going to do what one other local blogger did and flat out shut down this blog. However, you will notice the content and character of my posts here change. Yes, the day finally came that even I got tired of my posting style. I hope I’m not pushing the rest of you away by saying it’s time for change; I do treasure the fact I have the readership I have given that the quantity of my postings has slowed down as much as it has.

Make no mistake about it: QBC was and is a rather big undertaking; big enough to have both its own Twitter account and Facebook page. I have not set up Facebook pages for either this blog/site, or my other blog Iced Tea and Ramen. Part of that, is I’m not sure where either of them fit in long term; I’ll get back to this later.

Some detractors may say “we don’t need QBC, there are other blogs/sites like it in Houston, the last thing we need is another one.” I disagree. There’s room for QBC alongside similar efforts already in place for Houston. Heck, there is room for another five, ten, twenty, even a hundred other blogs/sites like it, just for Houston. This is a huge city, and QBC being subjective on purpose will pretty much by definition not be for everyone. If you took a look at QBC and found out it’s not your speed, by all means, start your own. (Now, I assume if you already have your own, that defines what is your speed more than QBC or any other similar blog/site ever could, and you’d only be looking elsewhere out of curiosity.)

As if that weren’t enough, there’s another piece of news I may as well go ahead and break. I plan to move the blog currently hosted here to another domain, redirecting the previous URLs from here to the new domain. I need to use this domain for something else, probably more of a personal portal/clearinghouse which points to all of my other blogs/online sites. I haven’t decided what, exactly, but it needs to be something more representative and worthy of my future personal brand. I need a personal soapbox, but long term, it won’t be here.

That, by the way, is another reason I haven’t bothered yet with a custom style for this blog. I didn’t like what the new Ahimsa did, so I quietly went back to the WordPress default. I’m assuming nobody minded the change. I know it’s only temporary, otherwise I’d have gone hunting a new theme. The eventual goal is my own custom designs on all of my blogs/sites; QBC is just the first, and for reasons I won’t go into here, it had to be the first.

The posts I have made here will remain intact and online, somewhere. If it’s not here, the URLs here will redirect to where they’ve went. I do that on purpose; I believe cool URLs don’t change. And maybe I’m that weird 0.01% that actually cares about such things. That’s me; I will always just be myself, and I endeavor to be as transparent and honest as possible.

Okay, enough already, I lack the ego to make this post much longer. Questions, concerns, comments? Comment here on this post, or send me something via the feedback form if it’s not intended for publication.

A tasteless energy drink marketing move

I’m sure Pepsi (who owns the AMP energy drink brand) really wants this one back. And yes, I know I’m late to the party on this a bit; I have a good reason for that, which I’ll explain in a future post.

Mashable reports on AMP’s new iPhone app “Before You Score” that was apparently released with one of two assumptions: AMP is only bought and consumed by men, or the women that learn of this marketing gaffe would be willing to look the other way and buy Pepsi’s products despite it.

I don’t know what Pepsi could have been thinking. I have never been that big of a fan of most Pepsi products; this does not help.

Not only is this a marketing blunder, it’s likely the women will be able to memorize the lame pick-up lines this thing spits out, so the men who rely on this get a really bum deal in the process. Shame on you, Pepsi; why not resurrect the Pepsi Challenge and see if you can get Coke to change their formula again? It can’t go any worse than this disaster.

Dogs on film

Okay, so not really on film, probably more like videotape or DVD, but the pun on the old song title was just hanging out there.

A recent story reported by Fastcompany.com, NPR, and ABC News tells the story of Robert Stevens. Robert is an independent filmmaker who compiled films of pit bull dogfights made in jurisdictions where dogfighting is legal, most notably Japan. He sold the films commercially to promote the proper care of pit bulls. For this, he received a jail sentence of 37 months, under a federal law that prohibits “knowingly selling depictions of animal cruelty, with the intention of placing them in interstate commerce” which was passed in 1999.

Robert appealed his case, and won on First Amendment grounds. The government compares these videos to obscenity, or “patently offensive conduct that appeals only to the basest instincts.” And so the case winds up in the US Supreme Court, where it is still being considered as of this writing as far as I can tell.

What I find disturbing here is that Robert’s sentence exceeds Michael Vick’s sentence for actually running a dogfighting ring. This is in effect saying that selling videos of legally conducted dogfights is a worse crime than actually running an illegal dogfighting ring. That, and I fail to see why Robert’s actions should be illegal. I do side with the appeals court here.

This does not change my viewpoint on dogfighting, however. I believe wanton animal cruelty such as staged dogfighting is despicable, which has been my view for the entirety of my adult life. I could go on and on about how I’ve always been an animal lover (I prefer cats to dogs). Suffice it to say, there are certain places such as Japan where it’s legal to stage dogfights, and it is equally their right to make the law what it is there as it is mine to condemn it.