It's now common knowledge that the advent of large-scale, consumer use of the internet changed the record business irrevocably. Prior to the online explosion, the music industry expected consumers to take a trip to their local record stores to buy CD's. And when ordinary consumers decided that they wanted a more instantaneous, easier way of sourcing music via their computers, the music industry initially fought tooth and nail to stop them. The didn't just initiate legal action against software developers and website operators who provided the infrastructure for file-sharing and downloading, they also sued individuals too. Of course, the inexorable tide of consumer power won the day, and accessing music via the internet is now the norm. The record business reacted badly and slowly, and much of it was simply wiped off the map as a result. The moral of this particular tale is that what the consumer wants, the consumer invariably gets.
Over the last three years or so, the same dynamic has hit the live music industry, and specifically the way concert tickets are purchased and re-sold. The secondary ticketing market has enabled people who cannot attend the events for which they've bought tickets, to sell those tickets directly to other consumers. Ticket exchanges like Viagogo and Ticketola provide easy to use platforms for consumers to trade tickets amongst themselves. But just like the recording industry ten years ago, many people who work in the live music sector are distinctly unhappy that this is happening. Once again, most of these industry executives are missing the central, and most relevant issue; and that's the fact that the secondary ticketing market is not being driven by website owners, but by consumers themselves. The vast majority of tickets which can be purchased at ticket exchanges are listed by people who have bought tickets for events which they cannot subsequently attend. And most of those tickets are sold for their original price, or for less than their original price. Just like people appreciate the ease with which they can now download music when they want to, they also appreciate it when they are not stuck with tickets that they no longer have any use for. And the buyers who use ticket exchanges are now able to obtain tickets for events that are officially 'sold-out'. So it's a win/win situation for both parties.
Jonathan White, the founder of ticketola.com - a ticket exchange which specialises in concert and festival tickets said recently: "It's a bit of a myth that all tickets sold via the ticket exchanges have vastly inflated price tags. Over 12,000 tickets have been purchased at Ticketola over the last six weeks, and 96% of them were bought for their original price, or lower. And if there's any ticket touting happening at the ticket exchanges, the touts soon realise that ridiculously priced tickets simply don't sell. It's a buyers market out there."
Of course, there is the wider issue of ticket fraud, which has been highlighted lately in certain sections of the media. There have been instances of unscrupulous criminals who create websites and sell tickets that they don't actually have. But this is something that happens in all market sectors, not just ticketing. Unfortunately, one down-side inherent in internet shopping is that it's made it easier for criminals to operate, and the ticketing market is no different from other consumer-centric products and services in this respect. On this point, Jonathan White stated:
"Ticket fraud is almost non-existent on the leading ticket exchanges because buyers are protected against this kind of thing. At Ticketola (Ticketola.com), buyers are immediately refunded if the tickets they have purchased turn out to be fakes, and we verify the identity of all our sellers. The real cases of fraud have occurred when criminals masquerade as primary ticket agencies, and they advertise tickets that don't even exist. My advice to ticket buyers is to always use either a reputable ticket agency or ticket exchange - it's very easy to check out which company is operating a particular website. And if you can't find that information out, then don't use that site. Also, if you buy tickets using your credit card or paypal account, you will automatically be refunded if you've been scammed. And whilst I do think that ticket fraud is a very real issue, there's a lot of scare-mongering going on, and it certainly isn't as prevalent as some people would have us all believe."
Unlike the music download market, the secondary ticketing sector is still in it's infancy, and there are going to be many more twists and turns in this particular story. But the genie is now out of the bottle, consumers are using ticket exchanges in their millions, and the ticket market will never be the same again. It will be interesting to see if the live music industry is able to adapt, because if it doesn't, it will be trampled underfoot by the inexorable power of consumer choice.