Waging war on the web's ticket touts

The music industry and the internet continue their rocky relationship into the online ticket arena, with the king of music festivals proving, once again, to be a hurdle too high.

The music industry is still bruised from Round One, which saw the proliferation of music downloading leaving CD sales spiralling downwards.
But while people are content to download songs for free, they are also willing to cough up hundreds of pounds to see their favourite artists perform live.

Welcome then to Round Two, where festival and concert organisers are intent on crippling ticket "touts" who re-sell tickets at inflated prices online.

A new strategy

The new system of purchasing tickets for this summer’s Glastonbury festival (taking place between 25-27 June) was the first serious attempt to cut the touts down to size.

Keen to avoid last year’s problem, when tickets were re-sold online for four times their original price, a new system is being tested.

This year, festival-goers purchased their tickets via a telephone ticketline or on the website aloud.com with a debit card, postal order or cheque as opposed to a credit card. Only two tickets could be sold per person, each of which were personalised to the cardholder.


Nearly all 112,000 tickets were sold within 24 hours, leaving some fans empty-handed due to excessive demand, both on the phone lines and website.

However, it was hoped these measures would prevent touts from buying up tickets in bulk to be re-sold at extortionate prices after the festival had sold out.

Fighting back

Most tickets for concerts and festivals purchased by touts are re-sold on online auction site Ebay where over 10 million items are listed on any given day.

Using this system, the tout (who is anonymous) puts the tickets up for auction. Registered users (also anonymous) are then free to bid for the tickets until the auction ends (usually within 10 days). Payment and postage is then discussed via e-mail between the seller and the highest bidder.

As of 13 April 2004 there were 109 listings for Glastonbury tickets on Ebay, proving the touts have not been deterred by the new system.

A single ticket, with an original face value of £112, was going for £250 after three bids and 16 bids had been placed on a pair of tickets going for £605.

As of 1 June, tickets are going for up to £950. It seems fans are willing to pay these hefty sums of cash to secure entry after coming away empty-handed first time round, suggesting the fans have still suffered under the new system as they did under the old.

One fan said: “I think the old system worked where the touts bought all the tickets, then we bought them off the touts. You may have to pay stupid amounts of money but at least you'd get a ticket. This year pretty much all my friends were left with no tickets.”

However, when ticket touting is at its most extreme the fans won’t play along. Ebay had two auctions for pairs of tickets with a camping vehicle pass, which at face value would have a combined cost of £264. One auction was starting at £650, the other for a staggering £2,500.

Neither had received any bids.

Back-up plan

By putting the holders’ names on tickets, it was hoped this would deter touts as they could then be easily traced if they re-sold their tickets.

To enforce this, organisers say ID checks will be undertaken at the gates to ensure tickets have not been re-sold although the exact nature of these checks remains to be seen.

Yet touts are still undeterred. Sellers for the auctions mentioned above all stress they will either provide ID or “help with ID as much as possible”.

One seller is even offering to change the names on the tickets he bought to those of the highest bidder by contacting Glastonbury ticket services to get them to change the names.

Whether this is possible remains a grey area.

The official line from the website is that details cannot be changed once the tickets have been sent out. Yet some fans on the official Glastonbury website say they have managed to change the names on their tickets after booking them (and before they have been sent out), while others have been told it is not possible.

Devil’s advocate

Is there anything Ebay can do to stop the touts? Don’t hold your breath!

Glastonbury organisers had asked the site not to allow the re-selling of tickets, but it seems they have chosen to ignore this.

Auctioning of tickets is labeled as “questionable” under Ebay’s selling policy, stating sellers should be aware of listing tickets that could put them at risk with third parties, taking into account clauses on some tickets stating they should not be re-sold.

Ebay say they do not search for these types of tickets though and do not take sides in any disputes that may arise.

A solution?

Ticket touting has not just affected Glastonbury. Tickets for most big-name bands’ concerts and events find themselves in the hands of touts.

So what about the fans? Once tickets for their favourite artist’s gig has sold out, must they resign themselves to digging deep in their pocket to afford to go to the touts who snapped them up in the first place?

Not necessarily. Website, scarletmist.com, aims to match up people with unwanted tickets with those who do want them.

Founder Richard Marks said: “Most ticket agencies and music promoters refuse to handle ticket returns. Scarlet Mist provides a useful service to people who are unable to use their tickets, particularly at short notice.”

However, touters beware. Sellers must offer their tickets at face value price and unscrupulous sellers will be blocked from the system.

The site was particularly successful in re-selling unwanted tickets for last year’s Glastonbury.

Although scarletmist.com has been asked not to re-sell tickets this year, Richard says he is in negotiations with the organisers, to ensure tickets that people genuinely do not want go to those who missed out first time around.

Warning

Just like the music downloaders, touts are proving to be a resilient bunch, no matter what tactics the industry employs in its fight against them.

However, while attempting to deal severe blows to the touts, it is important the fans do not get hurt in the process by making it difficult for them to get hold of tickets, as well as for the touts.

A battle with the fans would ultimately be the hardest to win.