We’ve almost reached the point when there are people who didn’t know any other way, but a long time ago, there existed a music recording industry. A pretty lucrative industry, too. Famous musicians and aspiring ones would rent a studio, hire a producer, record singles and albums, and the major corporation that fronted the musicians the money to do so would then sell the finished products for a profit.
But that which can be digitized can be copied, infinitely. And in a world in which movies and books can be streamed into your home, the idea of driving to a record store and looking through the racks seems both antiquated and ludicrous. It became irrational for music fans to drop $12 for an album that a little ingenuity could put in their hands for nothing. The industry isn’t technically dead yet, but we’ve got the mortuary on speed dial. The number of recording artists has proliferated, while the number of profitable ones has winnowed down to just a few dozen.
Forced to improvise, the industry decided to pound its remaining profit centers. You can’t digitize and copy the attending of a performance, therefore if any money is to be made in the industry, it’s in concerts. (Yes, and merchandise, but that’s a topic for another post.)
So how to maximize concert profits? It sounds tempting, but the promoters and ticket companies couldn’t just raise prices arbitrarily. The laws of supply and demand still exist, and were tickets to cost too much, people will just find something else to do.
However, there is a creative way to get a little more blood out of each ticket buyer. Announce shows well in advance. Embedded in ticket buyers’ DNA remains the belief that every concert runs the risk of selling out. Therefore, buy your tickets as early as possible. Thus letting LiveNation enjoy your money all the longer. This has become commonplace. Depending on the size of the act, it’s normal to see tickets being sold 6, even 8 months early. Rush are playing Las Vegas this November. Tickets went on sale in March. For a naïve fan, that means an even longer window in which to risk seeing the show sell out. Got to buy those tickets now, and the earlier “now” is the better.
Understand that concerts, at least beyond the walk-up level, were never about you exchanging your money for a couple hours of entertainment. They were about you exchanging your money plus a few weeks’ worth of investment potential for said entertainment. Of course there wasn’t a whole lot you were going to do with that $35 besides spend it on a Def Leppard ticket anyway, so from your perspective, the investment potential was negligible.
But today, you’re exchanging your money plus months’ worth of investment potential. A minor difference as far as the individual ticket buyer is concerned, but an enormous one from the standpoint of the company that sells the tickets myriads at a time. You still get the concert, but they get your money and enough interest to make it worth Live Nation’s while to inconvenience you by forcing you to buy the tickets earlier than you otherwise would.
You could argue that this is blatant, but it’s mild compared to some of the other gouging tactics the ticket-selling oligopoly has used and continues to use. “Service fees”? “Handling charges” for a set of electrons that you can print at home? And they keep the charges if the show gets cancelled? It’s laughable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a victim of forced forgone interest.
Because you know what other, tangential part of the music industry has been forever transformed by technology? The resale market. There’s no such thing as a sold-out house (Harvey Mackay, c. 1990). The longer you wait to buy tickets, the more resellers there are, competing for your business.
Case in point, in August the Control Your Cash principals are going to see Iron Maiden. Who aren’t coming within 450 miles of Control Your Cash World Headquarters, which means a road trip. The (seemingly overpriced) tickets went on sale early in the spring, and on the day sales opened, no one at CYC HQ bought. Why? Because prices will lower. The venue holds about 20,000 people. In the few days before the show, someone, somewhere, won’t be able to attend. Several people, in fact. And almost all of them will be unsophisticated market players who didn’t read our 2-part series on how to scalp and do business with scalpers.
A generation ago, not being able to go to a concert you’d bought tickets for meant calling your friends and hoping one of them could take the tickets off your hands. Eating the tickets, treating them as a sunk cost, was often the default position. You weren’t going to call the local newspaper and spend money on a classified ad to sell the tickets, especially with a 3-day turnaround time. (God, it’s unfathomable that we used to live in a world like that.)
But today? We’re not even talking about regimented for-profit services like StubHub and its parent, eBay. Put those ducats on Craig’s List and you’ll probably get multiple offers. And the same goes for a buyer: more likely than not, you’ll have your pick of seat locations and prices. It’s Adam Smith’s wildest fantasies come true, albeit 2 centuries too late for him to enjoy them.
Best of all, it’s a way to stick it to the man. Don’t worry about the ticket companies, operating in cahoots with every venue in the nation. They’ll still make their money. Let them make it off the other idiots, not you. Repeat after us:
I will not buy tickets the moment they’re released to the public (see Facebook, IPO of).
I understand that ticket sellers at the origin no longer have a monopoly. Tickets.com has no more power over me than does user 5htdlpsp67ckls on Craig’s List. Welcome to 2012, it’s a great place to be.
I am in control. And I’ll keep my money in my wallet until as close to the show date as possible.
Caveat vendor, indeed.