Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In Defence Of.... The Ticket Tout

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)


Anonymous said...

Touts are a bit like prostitutes - the law is black and white on them but the morals are much greyer andyes there is actually a strong case for legalising them as you have put here.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful post and understand your free market / entrepreneurial argument, but the by-product of this is that it has become so much more difficult to get tickets for shows as touting has become easier, (and the need to stand outside the venue surreptitiously muttering "buy or sell any tickets, any tickets, buy or sell" has been bypassed).
It almost seems negligent to not buy double the number of tickets you need, and sell the others to cover your cost of the gig. As a result, the gigs sell out twice as fast and anyone a little slow off the mark misses out unless they want to pay an inflated price that they wouldn't have had to pay if people just stuck to buying what they actually needed.
And no, I haven't sold tickets on Seatwave or wherever. The last spare ticket I had I sold at cost. Out of principle.
Question: Are you just excusing people who are being inconsiderate and greedy (discuss)?

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the great comments , it’s the reason why this new series called In Defence of has been created.

Am I excusing greedy and inconsiderate people ? Maybe I am, because ultimately we live in a culture fuelled by greed – we’re all greedy. For example if you’ve ever compared the price of two identical products from two different retailers and purchased the cheapest then you acted out of greed – to save yourself some money. So I think in a way we’re all greedy. It just depends on what you see as acceptable greediness or not.

Keith said...

I think the problem comes when professional touts buy up huge chucks of tickets for big events purely to resell at 2 or 3 times the price.

While the real fans log on to ticketmaster at 9am on the dot like the recent Florence Hackney gig & see that everything is sold out.

Most infuriating of all is that you see tickets immediately available with their own ticket tout company, Get Me In, to ensure they profit from these touts. Viagogo and Seatwave do the same thing.

Simple solution is to make it illegal to resell any tickets above face value. But clearly the professional ticket touts above wouldn't want that.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Keith - but how do you define 'real fans'?

If you went into a bakers to buy a loaf of bread (another product with a sell by date like tickets) and found that they had sold out and then saw down the road a van selling the same bread at double the price would you say that the bread seller should be made illegal ?

Making it illegal to resell tickets above face value wouldn't stop touting - just (like someone else mentioned) making prostitution illegal doesn't stop it - it just drives it more underground - just like making illegal downloading illegal doesn't stop it - (and illegal downloading is another form of greed where the me-me-me generation want everything and expect to be able to have it)

Re ; artists like Florence who sell out very quickly - the artists themselves could help by increasing the supply and playing more shows.

Scryst said...

A simple argument but intelligently put. I also agree that touts should not be defended but I can see the logic of what's written.

It doesn't seem fair to my mind - and the fairness relates to the fact that you can buy something and instantly inflate the price excessively.

Simple solution in theory to touts is for nobody to buy off them then they would go out of business.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Scryst - that's a good point about fairness. Most people just say its not fair because the price is inflated - but these same people don't complain about living in a capitalist society where goods are purchased and sold on at a higher price elsewhere. The point that the goods in this case are inflated way above the original prices does seem 'unfair' but only if we stick by the presumption that everyone has the right to go to cultural events such as gigs of all sorts.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't be able to go, just that this is a presumption that is made that maybe in reality isn't true, so the claims of things being 'unfair' are not properly thought through if you've chosen to live in this society.

We'd all like to live in 'an ideal world' where everything was classless wouldn't we? Or would we? I believe that's called Communism.

Dave Hall said...

Love a bit of politics.

Fairness is an abstract idea that's different to every individual.

Some people who enjoy the fruits of capitalism will always think its unfair when someone else also does so through another means.Particularly if it removes their enjoyment.

Nice piece that has made me re-think my views on touts a little.

KidBlooty said...

What constitutes a 'real fan' is an irrelevant point in my opinion. It's not about being a 'real fan' but merely being a customer buying tickets with a real intention of actually going to the show at the time of buying as opposed to selling it on for profit somewhere down the road.

Of course in a capitalist society, things are purchased at one price and sold on at a higher price elsewhere, but that's because (generally) value has been added in the process. What value does a tout add?

Breaking More Waves Blog said...


Yes - good points.

But once purchased as owner of the item isn't it up to you to do what you want to do with it?

And yes I would agree that generally value is added to a product when its sold on but not in all cases. Stocks and shares for example are bought and sold with no extra value. Other goods sold by stores are bought from suppliers and sold on often with no added value as the item hasn't changed.

Just some thoughts, and thanks for the comment - it's nice to see people entering the discussion with some valid points.

Christopher McBride said...

I have nothing but fury for ticket touts that re-sell tickets to charity events at inflated prices purely for profit. I saw several touts selling tickets for Suede's Teenage Cancer Trust gig at 10x the value without any indication that they were giving all theie profits to the original charity, which made me incredibly angry indeed.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Even I can't defend that sort of touting.

xtf said...

Ticket touts have long been associated with organised crime for a reason (nowadays it's the big businesses that are taking over but that's basically the same thing, isn't it?).

Your main argument in defence of the touts seems to be that this is the system we live in. But aren't we supposed to be critical of a system that we don't like? The focus shouldn't be on what's a "real" fan (the assumption is that a "real" fan would be willing to pay 10x amount of money because they love the band so much but that's irrelevant).

The focus should be on the fact that a band is selling their tickets for, say, £20 in order to have a sustainable business model. Then speculators try profit from the model without providing anything else. They don't give extra money to the band. They don't provide a better service to the fans. All they do is make an investment to make more money for themselves. What is there not to dislike about this? The current financial crisis was caused by the same practices done on a higher scale.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...


Yes that's why in the article I asked
"Or should we be asking, is capitalism unfair?" which is your point (which I agree with) but as most of us live and work in a capitalist society and accept this I see no reason why touts should be treated any different. As to what is there not to dislike about touts making money for themselves, well, about the same amount as any person who puts money into a bank account that earns interest and then keeps the money that they make from the interest payments for themselves. Touts are very easy to knock down but it's my opinion that if most of us look carefully at elements of our own lives we'll find we adopt similar principles of greed for ourselves.

xtf said...

Yeah but - at least in theory - the banks provide you with some service (keeping your money safe and accessible; paying interest; providing assistance with some services, etc.). One might argue that at the moment they don't give back as much as they should but it is possible to for them to work both for themselves and their customers. And I can't imagine how a ticket tout can do any good to anyone but himself. It's basically some people who have spare money to invest using them to demand a ransom out of people who love a certain band.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

XTF I agree with your comment to a certain extent, but couldn't it be argued that the tout is providing a service (and adding value) by supplying tickets for a sold event that those buying from them didn't have the facilities / skills / ability /knowledge to purchase a ticket for when they went on sale before they sold out ? People who buy tickets from touts must feel that it works for them as otherwise they could choose not to purchase.

Of course I know that one of the reasons the show has sold out is because touts have purchased them, but still, the % of tickets sold by touts compared with the % sold to ordinary punters is very very small.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the Dispatches show yesterday ?

Chris TT has written an interesting blog piece here following it


He says the same thing that you do - that fundamentally calling touts or secondary ticket agencies black when we all profit through capitalism in one way or another is a bit Nimbyist.

As he says "So yes, it’s an appalling practice. But if people resolved tomorrow that they wouldn’t pay above face value, even if that means sometimes missing a show they wanted to see, pouf! the trade vanishes in a cloud of smoke"

If you've ever brought from a tout, a secondary ticket agency or an 'exclusive' branded deal eg: 02 priority tickets - you are partly to blame for all this.

Tim said...

I've always wondered about the absolute hatred of touts for similar reasons, Robin. I actually don't have a problem with the guys at queues to gigs offering to buy or sell tickets at whatever price they can - it's a natural market. Friends, however, have been burned by fake tickets being sold by such people who then run off with the cash before the people get to the door to be told they're fake. I suppose I'm more after policing of touts to catch the con-men, than against touts completely.

What I really hate, however, is touts or companies like the accused Viagogo and Seatwave being able to buy up huge swathes of tickets, only to be able to make the gig sold-out and ramp up the price in their "2nd markets". Whilst touts buying and selling tickets on the door, or having bought a handful and then selling them on is not so bad in my book, those buying tens or hundreds of tickets like this is deplorable. I think Ticketmaster et al should all limit the orders to something like 4 or 5 tickets per transaction. This way the touts have to be in line with everyone else, and can;t use technological tricks to get in there first and buy up huge swathes. The ticketing companies that sell tickets on bulk to Seatwave and Viagogo for a cut of the markups are a disgrace to be honest. They are already being paid to sell tickets to fans (and take a ridiculous fee anyway) - to then screw the fans over like that should be cause for some form of legal action.

Regarding your selling tickets on eBay - I would say that's the best way to do it currently. What I would genuinely like is for a company to create a truly transparent 2nd market for tickets, where the market just takes a flat fee (say £4), and then tickets are sold at face value and bought for face value + £4. I still wouldn;t have a problem with people selling them on eBay, but such a transparent site could guarantee validity of the ticket and such-like, making the whole process safer - something the whole reselling game needs.

I've not watched that Dispatches yet though, I may be more irate when I do.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Good points Tim - yes I would never offer any defence to a con man selling fake tickets or the like, nor do I offer a defence here for secondary ticket agencies. As I said in the original post - such agencies are worthy of their own debate - it seems like since the TV show last night their role is being questioned and certainly this blog post has received a number of hits today from people interested in the subject.

Just as an aside it's also interesting to see that sites like the NME are making no comment on secondary ticket agencies - who they have received significant advertising income from.

Finally as for a transparent ticket resale site have you heard of Scarlet Mist http://www.scarletmist.com/index.php/blog/58 which has recently relaunched ?