Ticketmaster : An Evil Plot to Take Over Music

American capitalism has always claimed to value competition in the free market. As consumers, we are supposed to have multiple options for everything, and this is beneficial both for us and for the businesses themselves. When you want to grab your morning latte, purchase a gym membership or buy a new digital camera, you have a number of options, and that is the way it should be.

But when your favorite artist comes to town to perform a concert, Ticketmaster is really your only option to get there. The monopolizing, anti-competitive business practices used by Ticketmaster are detrimental to every party involved, other than Ticketmaster itself. The situation is bad for the consumer, the musician and even the venue.

Anyone who has gone to a concert or sporting event in the last ten years knows exactly what we’re talking about. Ticketmaster’s monopoly of the ticket market has allowed the company to charge whatever arbitrarily set fees it wants. The days of buying a ticket at face value from your local Ticketmaster outlet are long gone.

First, there is a service charge, which admittedly is not unreasonable, but the list continues. You have a processing fee, which is a charge for, well, the processing of your order. Somehow, this is separate from the service fee. Then you have a separate fee for the actual method by which you will obtain the physical tickets themselves, be it through will call, snail mail or print-at-home. Yes, that’s right, you have to pay a fee just to print the tickets out of your home printer. They might as well call something like an “e-ticket convenience charge” by what it really is – a “fee just because we’re evil and we hate humanity.”

Ten years ago, when record stores still existed, you could go to a local Ticketmaster outlet and avoid some of these charges. At that point in time, the charges made more sense. It was fine for Ticketmaster to charge you extra money for the convenience of buying tickets over the phone or online, because you had an alternative option that allowed you to avoid the charges. Now, you don’t, but you still have to pay the extra fees. Ticketmaster will charge you for the convenience of your method of purchase, while at the same time refusing to provide you with any other way to get your tickets.

For an example of how all this works in practice, let’s look at Coldplay’s 2009 tour. The cheapest seats were $50 each, so the Coldplay fan on a budget could, in theory, go with a friend for $100. Not so.  The final charge for the two tickets exceeded $150. Yes, the total fees for only two tickets added up to the price of one of the tickets. Fortunately for Ticketmaster, sodomy is legal.

Unfortunately for us, you have no other options by which to avoid these ridiculous fees. Third parties and ticket resellers get their tickets from Ticketmaster, too, which means they can’t get them to you any cheaper. Besides, Ticketmaster releases the best seats to these resellers before the public on-sale date. This guarantees extra cash for Ticketmaster, hikes up prices and helps ensure that tickets will sell out – which means you can’t buy tickets at the venue box office because there aren’t any left.

Clearly this is a horrible deal for the consumer, but it doesn’t end there. The venues suffer, too. They are not allowed to set the terms for any part of the transaction, and they have no choice but to partner with Ticketmaster if they want to put on artists that people will want to see. This arrangement hurts the artists to boot. It leaves them with no way to avoid imposing these charges on their fans. With the drastic downturn in record sales, musicians are increasingly finding that touring is much more lucrative for them. This further ensures the dominance of Ticketmaster.

The well-publicized merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which is currently being reviewed by the government, is only going to make matters worse. Live Nation was never really a pure competitor to Ticketmaster in the first place; it functioned as a promoter for artists rather than a ticket seller. Live Nation did, however, maintain exclusive deals with some venues that Ticketmaster could not sell for. That didn’t stop Live Nation from charging the same exorbitant fees as Ticketmaster, and now that the two companies are merging, the situation is likely to get worse.

Some critics have pointed out that the Ticketmaster situation may violate anti-trust laws. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site, anti-trust laws “make it a crime to monopolize any part of interstate commerce.” When one company has gained a monopoly “not because its product or service is superior,” but through “anticompetitive conduct,” the laws are applied. Clearly a ticket to an event could not be superior to a working ticket sold by another company.

When Pearl Jam sued Ticketmaster for monopolistic practices over a decade ago, nothing happened – but clearly the situation is worse now than it was then. Either way, it seems unlikely that a court would rule against such a large corporation with such extensive lobbying power. Change must come from other places, and the artists can only do so much.

All of us vote with our wallets. By continuing to buy tickets from Ticketmaster, we are sending the message that we are fine with the fees. As we do that, the chance of these ridiculous charges and the associated anticompetitive behavior ever ending gets worse. It seems that the only way to force a change is to remove our money from the equation. Stop buying tickets, or continue buying tickets and giving Ticketmaster your stamp of approval.

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