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Ticket commissions back in the spotlight on back of Which? report

By | Published on Wednesday 18 December 2013


Which? magazine has thrown the spotlight onto the whole “why the fuck am I paying six pounds to print out my own tickets” thing, claiming that consumers sometimes see the cost of their tickets to theatre and music shows increase by over a third when they get the final stage of the booking process and ticketing agencies add those customary booking, delivery, credit card and ‘right to consume air while at the gig’ fees.

The consumer rights magazine added that in 78 bookings it made for fifteen shows from 20 ticketing firms, only two did not incur extra fees in addition to the advertised ticket price. Of course it’s no secret that consumers dislike the ‘final screen fees’ that are routine in the live sector, though widespread annoyance at the practice will rarely result in fans not buying tickets to see the artists they love, so there isn’t really any commercial incentive to sort it out, even though some artists who are selling more of their tickets direct-to-fan have been trying to simplify or remove the unpopular commissions.

But Which?’s Executive Director Richard Lloyd told The Telegraph yesterday that the live industry should nevertheless respond to consumer frustration. He told the paper: “Consumers tell us they are feeling ripped off by the level of ticketing charges and the lack of transparency means it is almost impossible for people to compare prices when booking online. We want to see the ticketing industry play fair on ticket fees, so that all charges are displayed upfront and with a clear explanation of what they’re for”.

But the most prominent ticketing provider in the UK (and very possibly the most hated brand in music, yep, even more so than the evil major labels and tax-dodging Amazon), told Music Week that “to suggest that ticket fees are hidden is utterly misleading and factually incorrect”, because, of course, those extra fees are clearly outlined before a customer actually presses the payment button, even if that information comes several screens into the online booking process.

Meanwhile both Ticketmaster and Vivendi-owned See Tickets, speaking to Music Week and the Telegraph respectively, stressed that the commissions were often their sole income stream on the tickets they sold, and that sometimes the extra fees were also shared with a show’s promoter (and, very possibly, the artist too).

Which is all true, the commissions aren’t so much an effort by the live sector to screw over the customer, but more the result of the way concert finances are organised behind the scenes. But that excuse misses the point really, ie people don’t get annoyed that they have to pay, say, £50 instead of £35 to access a show, it annoys them that that fact is rarely declared up front.

After all, if a loaf of bread is priced one pound on the shelf where you first pick it up, Tesco don’t add a 20p processing fee at the till, it covering its own costs in the advertised price. Of course separately itemising commissions in ticketing could make sense if the fees relate to optional extras (eg registered post delivery), or if tickets are available from numerous ticketing agencies who compete on commission prices. But often tickets for events are only available from one primary agent, and the extra commissions are compulsory.

But whatever, it seems unlikely that occasional Which? reports and moanings in political circles will result in any change to the commissions practice in the live space because, as we say, while such fees may be widely unpopular, they rarely result in a lost sale. Though some have argued that overly complicated and unpopular primary ticketing services play into the hands of the often controversial secondary ticketing sites, because consumers expect buying tickets online to be a pain in the arse, and therefore find it hard to distinguish approved from unofficial sellers.