When Markets Turn Black

Interesting piece in the Indy on the pricing of tickets at the O2 arena. Are tickets for pop gigs too expensive, and if so, why? Tub-thumping free marketeers might like to reflect on what happens when markets turn black: it’s enough to make most ordinary music fans turn puce.

The issue focuses on ‘Platinum tickets’ – the best seats in the house which, while less good seats go for around £40-£45, are sold instead for three-figure prices that vary enormously according to demand. It might sound fair enough in a society that’s become accustomed to unfixed pricing for train and plane tickets (confusing and cruel though that may be).

But does this approach actually result from the impact of ticket touts’ activities? They allegedly buy up masses of ordinary seats and then sell them on in the “secondary market” at vastly inflated prices, which at worst can prevent fans from being able to buy those seats at the promoter’s price. If you buy a ticket at an inflated rate from a tout, it’s the tout, not the artist or the promoter, who benefits – so it’s no wonder that the latter might feel a tad sore about it and want to cash in too.

Platinum tickets can only be bought from the venue’s official website. The O2’s ticket agent, Ticketmaster, tells The Independent re ‘Platinum tickets’: “The goal is to give the most passionate fans fair and safe access to the best tickets, while enabling artists and other people involved in staging live events to price tickets closer to their true value.”

But what is that ‘true value’? If those prices are pushed artificially high by that ‘secondary market’ – which, though apparently legal, can at times look a wee bit like a black market trying to hide behind a respectable name – does that make it ‘true’? I don’t think so. Instead, the situation makes a travesty of all those nice, jolly, free-market ideals, and it’s the resulting fleece-the-hapless-punter distortion that then becomes the norm. Has unfettered capitalism forced us all to become participants in a black market?

The Indy’s arts editor, David Lister, puts it rather succinctly: “…if the market will bear such grotesque ticket prices then good luck to those charging them, and more fool the people paying them.” 

Looks to me like another instance of Just Say No…

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