Gig ticket touts. Scum of the earth, right?
The arguments usually go something like this. “Ticket touts are evil, they’re ripping off genuine fans at over inflated prices.” Over the years artists have condemned the touts, most recently Ed Sheeran who asked the public via the BBC “If you buy my tickets just to sell on eBay then please don't.”
Ok, we have a confession. We have from time to time sold tickets for gigs on Ebay at a profit. Does that make us evil ? Hitler evil ? Satan evil ? We’ve never thought of ourselves as evil, but then Hitler probably didn’t as well. Most recently we sold a single ticket for an Example show at Brighton Centre. We sold it because having seen him earlier in the year we were bitterly disappointed with his performance (in front of an energetic festival crowd the majority of his set appeared to be a live vocal over PA backing track with his band miming parts). We put the ticket on Ebay for face value plus the original booking and postage fee (£19.50). The ticket sold for £51.50. We spent the profit on purchasing another ticket to see a new artist, Gabrielle Aplin play a pub gig and the rest went towards part payment for a ticket for the No Direction Home Festival this summer. Does this make us evil? Or, like a Robin Hood of music are we simply redistributing wealth in what could be argued as a more ‘fair’ way? Of course not all touts act in this manner. Many of them redistribute wealth and spend it on other things away from music.
Let’s look at this core argument in our defence of touts.
There is a presumption in our society that everyone should be able to afford to go to see cultural entertainment. It’s this presumption that leads the so called ‘real fans’ to complain that if they can’t get or afford tickets for certain gigs they want to go to ‘it’s not fair’.
So here’s a question. Who are ‘real fans?’ and what is ‘fairness’?
Let’s take fairness first. We live in a capitalist society. The vast majority of us purchase items that we demand, want or need. The retailers we buy these items from have bought them from wholesalers and suppliers. They have taken a form of speculative risk in purchasing goods, often in bulk in the hope that they can sell them for profit. Most of us see this as fair. Yet ticket touts do exactly the same. They still take a risk, particularly as the product they are selling has a limited shelf life (the date of the concert) and after that is valueless. Is that unfair? Or should we be asking, is capitalism unfair?
And who or what are real fans? How can we define who is a ‘real fan’ and who isn’t? Maybe bands should set up exam centres and before purchasing a ticket for a gig those who want to go should be subjected to an essay style question paper on the group’s music and history? But then the touts could revise and swot up like anyone else if they thought there could be a business case for suitable profits, or pay a ‘real fan’ to take the exam on their behalf. We jest, but we hope it helps explain the difficulties of categorizing a ‘real fan’.
Yet is it really only ‘real fans’ that go to gigs? If that were the case then what about a band that you’ve just heard of that are playing your local town, but you’re not yet a ‘fan’ of. Should you be sent to the back of the queue for tickets until the real fans have their share? If so how will bands ever develop new audiences? Internet sales of tickets mean that there is no queue, just a virtual scramble for in demand bands, the touts in the thick of it with everyone else. In the past, when people physically queued for tickets for in demand gigs it was just as easy for the tout to turn up early and get to the front of the queue, or pay someone else to do it, or stand next to the queue offering to buy tickets off punters as soon as they had collected form the box office.
So maybe these normal arguments of fairness for real fans aren’t actually valid. Maybe there’s a deeper underlying argument – that of work and taxation. Maybe the real issues with touts is that they can earn money without ‘doing any real work’ and then avoid taxation.
We’ll come back to taxation in a moment, because we believe that’s important, but first let’s discuss ‘real work’. What is real work? We don’t live in an age anymore where work is defined by hard labour, graft or time spent. If we did then we would have an equitable rewards system and the likes of bin men, farmers and construction operatives would be rewarded better financially than the likes of bankers or ‘celebrities’ endorsing a product. Work is far more intangible and the rewards do not necessarily link with what much of society would define as fair. Ticket touts, like any other person attempting to make money are doing work by taking risks and speculating. The time and physical effort to do this may be low, but this fits in with the modern definition of work.
The issue that does need to be addressed however is taxation. Whilst we’re defending touts we do think that it is not morally (or legally) right for them to avoid paying tax on the money they earn. It’s a principle of a good society to give something back to what has rewarded you.
Of course the issue of touting has become far more complex recently. With secondary ticketing agencies, tickets being personalised (making it difficult to sell on tickets for ‘real fans’ who for other reasons such as sickness are unable to attend) and tickets by ballot all adding to the mix. All these areas are worthy of their own debate – but for now, we’re resting our defence here and suggesting that maybe the practice of ticket touting isn’t quite as unfair as many think it is.
Maybe, just maybe, our current ‘have it all’ generation and mind-set needs to change and accept that we can’t go to every gig or festival we want to. If we adopted this less greedy stance the end result would actually be that touts wouldn’t exist as there would be no increased demand once the show had sold out.
If we can’t take this non-me-me-me approach then there needs to be an acceptance that the availability of some cultural entertainment will be more available to the rich than the poor and that there’s always going to be someone disappointed when a show is over subscribed. It’s a culture we’ve created.
As for the tout? Maybe we need to accept that they are just servicing willing customers with a private service where (taxation issues outstanding) there is no ‘victim’ to their ‘crime’ and unless we fundamentally change the way we act and the way our society operates, they aren’t going to go away. Maybe they're not scum after all. This lot are though...
S.C.U.M - Faith Unfolds (Silver Alert Remix)
S.C.U.M - Faith Unfolds (Silver Alert Remix)