Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Radiohead’s battle against the touts

Some thoughts on Radiohead’s efforts to make sure fans not touts got tickets for their Dublin show

Fri, Nov 4, 2016, 15:03


Usually, there’s a post here on a Friday afternoon pointing you to this week’s On the Record column in The Ticket. You’ll find that column here but there have obviously been some developments, to say the least, since this story appeared online during the week.

Tickets for Radiohead’s Dublin went on sale this morning and sold out in the blink of an eye. Leaving aside the fact that you were also going to get that when you’ve a band who could sell 40,000 tickets in Ireland playing a venue which holds 14,500 people, there’s still a lot to be unpicked here.

For a start, there were a lot of quibbles during the week about the high booking fees which Sandbag were charging during the pre-sale to fans. For anyone who has a problem with Ticketmaster’s fees in this regard, it was a lesson that they’re not the only ones who can hike prices up when it suits them. Given that the band appointed Sandbag to do this job for them – and the conspicuous silence to date from the band – they must have known the score. Additionally, charging a tenner or so for posting a few tickets is nuts, unless they’re using carrier pigeons which are, as I know from experience, expensive especially for gig tickets. Additionally, why was there no print-at-home option here? Is Thom Yorke OK with this given his much touted green credentials?

However, it’s the touting situation which is of far more concern today. It’s clear from a cursory glance at ticket reselling sites like Stubhub and Viagogo that the band’s anti-touting measures, like having the buyer’s name on the tickets, have just not kept tickets out of the hands of the touts. And let’s not beat around the bush here: these are touts. There is no way you bought a ticket at 9am and then realised at 9.01am that ‘oh, hold on, I have a dentist’s appointment on that date and need to sell the tickets’. It also makes you wonder what exactly is the magical workaround which tours have when it comes to selling these tickets with the initial buyer’s name on them. One such possibility was suggested this morning, though it’s hard to see a greedy, unscrupulous tout foregoing the profit by even holding onto one ticket in the manner described.

There are no tickets for the Dublin show on the Ticketmaster and Live Nation-owned Get Me In or Seatwave (there are tickets for a brace of the band’s Italian shows on the latter), which is an interesting and welcome development which makes you wonder if words were had. (Update: it seems words were had: per Stephen Jones’ report, “Ticketmaster blocked tickets from availability on its resale sites Getmein and Seatwave”). If so, why can’t such words be had and agreements made about other shows? After all, if Get Me In and Seatwave refuse to sell the tickets, there is no marketplace.

But if there is no marketplace then there is no excessive profit from this enterprise for d Live Nation, the company which ultimately owns these two particular sites. There are some fascinating lines in this report about the value of the secondary ticket market to Live Nation’s bottom line. “Secondary ticketing, which TM is now operating in 13 countries, delivered 34 percent growth in GTV (gross transaction value) for the year to $1.2 billion at constant currency in 2015, primarily driven by Ticketmaster’s TM+ secondary ticketing solution.”

I know, I know, it reads like gibberish, but the basic translation seems to be that Live Nation are making out like bandits from the secondary ticket market. Here’s what the company’s big cheese Michael Rapino had to say: “fans have continued to say their main goal is simply to get a ticket to the show or game they want and, as a result, integrated inventory conversion was 38 percent higher than primary only offerings.” Basically, they’re blaming the fans. The fans want the tickets for the show or game and Live Nation/Ticketermaster/Get Me In/Seatwave are just reacting to demand. Against their will, like.

There are also some startling numbers in this piece as well about the value of the secondary market to the various sites. I really like the observation from Music Glue’s Mark Meharry about how musicians and music business folk give out yards about Spotify and yet you’ve got Live Nation and Stubhub making more money than Spotify from reselling and secondary sites without the same hullabaloo, something we’ve alluded to here before. “So for two companies, Live Nation and StubHub, the combined revenues from secondary ticketing last year were $2.6bn while subscription was only $1.6bn – and yet all we ever talk about in the trade press is ‘Spotify this, YouTube that and how it’s not fair we are not getting enough money from these various services.’ Yet there are two companies operating away and earning a bloody fortune – and we are sitting by and watching it happen.”

One question has to be how the hell the touts get the tickets for these shows in the first place. We know all about the bots and the like, but is there some human element involved as well? Just how come touts can get their hands on so much inventory for a show the second they go on sale on the primary ticket market operated by Ticketmaster? In an age where a company like Ticketmaster often say they’re a technology company as much as a ticketing company, how come they can’t use their tech to identify these bots and refuse to serve them? Just how come in 2016, given AI and algorithms doing everything from making cups to tea to running presidental campaigns, can’t a company like Ticketmaster actually deal with the touts? It’s almost as if the will to do so just isn’t there.

But if the will isn’t there on that side to change things (because of the profits Ticketmaster’s own secondary ticketing sites are making), it’s certainly there on the other sides of the equation. Fans hate touts with the same passion they usually reserve for Ticketmaster, but many bands also hate what is going on. You have to give Radiohead credit for having a go even if it didn’t work. Similarly, we’ve seen many other acts also take a stand on this issue. Then again, there are many acts who are not as bothered for some reason and you have to wonder why they have no problem with touts fleecing fans for tickets. Are they really happy with this state of affairs or is the omerta down to the close ties between band, management and, say, an entity such as Live Nation? If Radiohead can take the time to attempt to ensure their fans are not ripped off by touts, the same holds for their peers too.

That said, this morning’s fiasco shows that it’s not quite as easy to quash as putting the buyer’s name on the ticket. Other options will have to be explored and examined – paperless tickets for instance – and perhaps it’s time for more acts to move away from the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly in favour of newer, more nimble and more fan-friendly operations. Of course, all of this is not to solve the problem of 40,000 Radiohead fans trying to buy tickets for a 14,500 capacity venue, but it might mean that those 14,500 sales are to genuine fans. Because, as things stand, the other way is just not working.