To beat scalpers, artists must embrace capitalism (Toronto Star)

Hands up everybody who loves logging onto a ticket sale only to find out tickets have already sold out? Or going to a resale site to see that tickets there are going for some insane multiple of the original price?

Now that nobody has raised their hand it’s easy to see why the Ontario government has announced “tough new rules” for buying and selling tickets. These include banning ticket buying software (i.e. bots) and capping the amount of resale prices to 150 per cent of the original. It’s a political no-brainer.

This doesn’t mean the province’s policies are smart, or well thought out. They might even make things worse, as smarter answers — ones that could also benefit artists — aren’t pursued in favour of a quick headline.

A ban on bots is welcome, but most primary ticket sellers already use anti-bot software. And capping the resale amount only pushes the problem under the table and off transparent platforms.

A proper solution would recognize that scalping has a legitimate claim to being the oldest profession. The Internet exacerbated the problem, it didn’t create it. And it will never go away.

The beat-the-scalper artists — or at least the ones who do the best job of neutralizing them — must learn to love capitalism. Instead of moaning to government about scalpers, artists should take the touts’ money. This starts with established artists (because that’s who scalpers mostly target) charging properly for their events.

A successful artist’s ticket supply rarely exceeds the extreme demand for their shows. If Adele only tours once every blue moon, and only does one gig per town, the number of people willing to pay an astronomical fee to a scalper to see her will only go up.

This is an argument for “dynamic” pricing, the kind of pricing used by the airlines. Unlike artists, their play isn’t to offer much the same ticket price to all users at all times, rather, it’s to charge more for peak times, direct flights, by season, etc. It’s enormously efficient at giving customers choice and the business’s revenue. The same could work for concerts and sporting events.

Indeed, dynamic pricing is already being applied to the arts. The hit Broadway musical Hamilton recently started charging more for primary tickets to people willing to pay the price and the price of tickets on reselling websites dropped. Dynamic pricing, adopted more broadly, would mean better prices for fans (although still high for mega events) and more money in the artist’s pockets (instead of scalpers).

It’s not perfect. Dynamic pricing might help the super fan willing to pay more to see their favourite performer, but it doesn’t help the romanticized fan central to an artists’ thinking, the one who has saved every dollar they have to get a ticket to the show.

Fortunately, as with so much these days, you can slap together the terms “artificial intelligence” and “big data” to piece together the beginnings of a solution there, too.

If artists are eager to reward their “true” fans, why not target a clutch of tickets toward those who post the most about them on their social channels? Justin Bieber fans, to pick an annoying example, love their man and most post about him incessantly. Most touts don’t.

Some primary sellers, such as Ticketmaster, are already tapping into users’ social channels (with users’ consent) for this reason. These same companies are also offering artists “ticketless” events, where admission is secured only with the credit card and photo ID of the primary ticket purchaser.

If venues and artists aren’t choosing these options (and there are costs) then some of the blame for scalping and outrageous prices lies with them.

Why not ban reselling altogether?

Because it wouldn’t be fair to true fans who, like me, buy (multiple) tickets to gigs months in advance without knowing for sure that work or other obligations won’t intrude, or that a friend can be found to come with me on the day.

Secondary ticketing sites give me a way to get rid of tickets, and a place for someone to take the ticket secure in the knowledge that it will get them into the show.

There’s no magic bullet. The bottom line is that money is going to be made. It might as well be the artists making it.

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