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Secondary ticketing: Are paperless tickets the answer?

By | Published on Tuesday 13 March 2012

Bruce Springsteen

The debate on secondary ticketing has taken an interesting turn in the US of late. As much previously reported, the growth in online ticketing touting (or scalping as those Americans will insist on calling it) has been the subject of much more public debate Stateside in recent years, mainly as a result of Bruce Springsteen speaking out on the issue.

Way back when secondary ticketing was first being debated by political types in the UK some commentators wondered if technology couldn’t limit the growth in touting, in that if tickets were linked to a buyer’s mobile phone or credit card then they would be harder to transfer.

Such electronic or paperless ticketing has taken longer to take off than many expected, but live music giant Live Nation is now talking it up as the big solution to the touting problem, noting that its use on the current Springsteen tour has seen the number of tickets on the secondary market for his shows drop significantly.

It’s somewhat ironic that Live Nation is using Springsteen as a case study for its ambitions in the paperless ticketing space, given the Boss’s aforementioned contribution to the online scalping debate was anger aimed mainly at TicketsNow, the ticket resale website operated by Live Nation’s Ticketmaster.

Interestingly Ticketmaster’s UK-based resale service Get Me In has generally avoided exposure in the recent bout of secondary ticketing anger over here, mainly by not featuring in the ‘Dispatches’ programme.

Of course Ticketmaster US has been busy trying to reassure critics of its resale site (especially politicians and artists) that it is acting responsibility and transparently, especially with regards where its primary ticketing business crosses into its resale ventures, and Live Nation’s advocacy of paperless ticketing to combat the touts may be part of that PR exercise.

Though the paperless ticketing route is not without its critics either. Some point out that if tickets are tied to the credit card or mobile phone that made the booking, it makes it difficult for people to buy tickets for friends, family members, employees or business partners. Others also note that Ticketmaster has its own resale platform for paperless tickets (albeit with a limit on mark up), and argue that Live Nation’s passion for electronic ticketing isn’t to combat online touting, but to take ownership of that market off competitors like eBay-owned StubHub (who can’t assist in the transfer of paperless tickets).

Indeed so strong are the reservations regards paperless ticketing in some circles that New York State has passed laws limiting its use, and forcing promoters to give consumers the option to choose between physical and paperless tickets, and similar measures are now being discussed in Congress. So perhaps electronic ticketing – while possibly being cheaper, greener and more convenient for many – won’t be the anti-touting solution some have suggested it will be in the past.

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