Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ticketmaster & Slave

From: Amsterdam Weekly
Recently trip-hop pioneer Tricky played at Paradiso. His recently released album had reinvigorated my interest, so I rushed to an outlet and bought two tickets. Somehow I'd spent $64.90 (without beer or T-shirt) before he took the stage. How's that? Well, two times tickets ($52), two times service costs ($6.90), two times Paradiso monthly memberships ($6). Simply gig-going is getting more expensive, and it's not due to egotistical rock stars or diminishing record sales. The add-on costs are spiralling out of control.
The quickest add-on to excuse is the membership both Paradiso and Melkweg require; either $3 monthly or $18 annually (which allows discounts and deals that a monthly member doesn't get). Melkweg's Marketing Manager Jon Heemsbergen explains, 'It's a multi-disciplinary, cultural centre. Melkweg theatre, cinema, gallery and media room are small-sized rooms. It's not possible to gain profit here. A small part of our income, nine per cent, is subsidised by the municipality of Amsterdam. Because of the membership regulation, Melkweg is able to do what we do for all our customers.'
Service charges are more complicated. 'If you buy a ticket on the night of the show we don't charge any service costs,' says Heemsbergen. 'In advance at Melkweg box office, we charge $1.50-$2.50 per ticket. If you buy a ticket [through Ticket Service] it will cost you a little more, but you actually pay for the guarantee to get in.' But shouldn't the purchase of a ticket be guarantee enough? Is it a chargeable privilege to buy your ticket in advance?
Event companies and venues like Paradiso and Melkweg pay leading ticketing distributor Ticket Service (Ticketmaster internationally) to sell their tickets. Ticket Service also takes a fee from the customer on a sliding scale based on the purchase amount, rather than its processing cost, because, as Peter van Ruijven, General Manager of Ticket Service Netherlands says, 'You can't put our standard fee on low prices, so we invented the relation with the ticket price.'
Had I bought my $26 ticket online I'd have paid a $4.15 service charge instead of $3.45 from the outlet. I'd also have paid $1.06 to receive my ticket as a PDF document in my inbox, or in the post. However, a ticket to the delightfully named Fuck Buttons this week for $12.50 will have a $3.55 online service charge and $0.56 delivery fee. This sliding rate in delivery fee, Van Ruijven says, is due to 'dealing with software licensing costs'.
Why do I pay two service charges by Ticket Service when I buy the two tickets as one service? 'All our costs are related to one sold ticket.' And why can't I buy tickets to more than one event in one purchase, thus reducing charges? Van Ruijven says they're working on it. 'Perhaps in time.'
'When we chose Ticket Service they were the biggest and best distribution network physically and that was important to us,' says Jeanine Albronda, Head of Publicity and Marketing at Paradiso. 'Both Melkweg and Paradiso are experimenting with online companies that are cheaper than Ticket Service for e-ticketing. They offer different ways of charging the customers. The fee systems are very important because that affects our customers, and that's who we work for.' So should Ticket Service be worried? 'They didn't have competition and now they do. It's easy to see that they should be worried. We're watching what they'll do and how they'll respond.'
A relatively new avenue for event companies and venues such as Sugar Factory is Paylogic. Commercial Director Jan Willen van der Meer says, 'We charge a fee of $1.95 per transaction to the event company, not the consumer. This is our sole income. It's up to the event company what they want to do with that fee. They might include it in the ticket price, add it as a service charge or even inflate that service charge.' The big difference to consumers is only one booking fee whether you buy one or multiple tickets, and there's no charge for sending a PDF. Should you fear the internet, you can buy tickets from Primera, with a $3 booking fee.
So should we boycott Ticketmaster over service charges like Pearl Jam did in 1994? The effort by the band was appreciated but resulted in few gigs in the US over the next three years, and we'd like to see a show before 2011.
There are no great alternatives-- at least while online companies fight for position in the market. To see a band whose ticket is available through Ticket Service, van Ruijven says the best way is via an outlet store, paying cash. Otherwise you could pin your hopes on for half-price tickets on the day, or hope it doesn't sell out and buy your tickets on the door. But that's risky, and you may face a scalper's wrath. It's a tricky business.

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