The short version: do not buy tickets from online scalpers for anything more than face value, most especially for any of our shows. If they cannot make money from speculating on the future value of concert tickets, they will close up shop and find another way to make money. At the very least, if it’s known that our fans will not buy from scalpers, they will no longer buy up our tickets.
The long version…
mu·tu·al·ism [myoo-choo-uh-liz-uhm] –noun
1. a relationship between two species of organisms in which both benefit from the association.
par·a·site [par-uh-sahyt] –noun
2. a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.
Paul and I are very fortunate that a large enough chunk of society has deemed what we do worthwhile, to the point that many are willing to pay us for our creative output. It’s even more astounding that people spend their time and money to see us live in concert. In these difficult economic times we know that for some, that can mean blowing an entire month’s entertainment budget.
So thank you to everyone who provides us with the financial rewards that enable us to continue producing amusing things. It actually feels like stealing sometimes: we goof off, and people give us REAL MONEY in return. But if we weren’t producing something of value to people (happiness via entertainment), we would receive $0, and have to find something else to do. So from an ethical standpoint, I sleep easy at night.
Of course we didn’t choose entertainment as a career solely for the financial rewards, and many of the decisions that we and Jonathan make when we’re touring together sometimes go against our own financial interests. There have been several instances in which we’ve chosen venues because they’re more comfortable, in better locations, or charge less in ticket fees, despite the fact that it meant we would see less in our pockets at the end of the night. We’ve also declined on many occasions to charge more for “luxury box” or other premium seat set-asides. Yes, we’d see more money, but is it worth divide the audience at shows into “haves” and “have-nots” when it’s avoidable?
Our answer is “no”. Although we need to make enough money to justify continuing as professional writer/musicians, and wouldn’t object to making millions of dollars doing it, it doesn’t seem ethical to us to squeeze every last penny from our fans at every turn. Or if we do, we aim to return to them an equal or greater amount of value.
So when it came to our attention via fans a few days ago that $30 tickets to our upcoming sold-out show at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA are being sold by an online scalper for over $200, it hit a sour note. Certainly enough to merit a tweet from Paul:
[P] Can someone please explain to me how this is legal: $30 tix to our 5/7 Birchmere show being resold for $238? [link to ticket site withheld]
Unsurprisingly, we received plenty of sympathetic indignity. What was more surprising is that today we received a reply from the scalper:
[Twitter account name withheld] @paulandstorm its legal because its a free market society we live in. many of our tickets are also below face value also. thank you
…with a follow-up addendum…
@paulandstorm also, congratulations that you are lucky enough to have such a demand for your shows. we wish you continued success
I’d like to address the tweets in reverse order, if it please the court:
- Thank you for the well-wishes.
- Thank you for dismissing our success as “luck.” Although I feel fortunate to have been born in a time and place that allows us to make a living this way, and we’ve certainly had more than our share of good breaks, it would amount to nothing without a lot of hard work. This includes the work to develop our talents, facing down repeated rejection, cultivating and maintaining a relationship with our fanbase, and traveling in what are often suboptimal conditions.
In short, to quote Starship, we built this city. (Albeit with a LOT of help along the way.)
I imagine that all business owners nodded their heads at the second bullet point, including those who are scalpership proprietors. So why should I begrudge someone for spending time and resources building a website to resell tickets, and for putting their capital at risk in hopes of reaping a financial gain?
I mostly agree that we live in a free market society, at least insofar as the government does not set the price on all goods and services. I also believe that although unchecked capitalism is as bad as any other pure -ism, on the whole it’s produced more good than harm. When properly harnessed, people’s self-interest can produce a lot of good for society as a whole. So it’s clearly not on froth-mouthed and dogmatic anti-free market/capitalistic grounds that I object.
However, there are practices within the free market and capitalist systems which do not add value to society, often harm it, and should not be emulated. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to call those practices “bad.” For example, if someone were to make money by chopping off other people’s arms without their consent, processing it, and selling it as iguana food, I think most would agree that that’s a bad practice, even if it was legal and profitable. Would the free market correct for it, perhaps in the form of an angry loved one’s act of revenge? Probably. But how many people would be harmed before the correction, and at what cost to society?
Of course that’s an extreme and ridiculous example (I hope; for less extreme examples see Charles Ponzi, Black Friday, and Enron), but it does lay down the marker that just because something can be done to make money doesn’t mean that one should.
Unlike all of those examples, however, online ticket scalping is legal (eBay and many other auction sites do not allow it, but it’s not for legal reasons). And I’m certain most of those sites would object to that term. Scalping. Scalper. It’s not very flattering. But most probably don’t care, so long as they make their buck. I concede that scalpers at their worst don’t register very high on the evil scale, especially compared to the aforementioned cases. Some might even argue that scalpers provide a valuable service—allowing people access to sold out shows, thereby making them happy—and therefore deserve to eat among polite company.
Nope, sorry. For every person a scalper makes happy, another is sad because they are unable to attend. The equation is balanced: no value is produced by the scalper.
Is there any other possible good that comes specifically from scalping? How about if the proceeds or some portion of them went to the artist? But the artist doesn’t see that money, nor does the venue. If wanted, we could set aside a certain number of tickets to sell at a higher price later, but we choose not to. Our show, our choice. Once again, zed value produced by the scalper.
Okay, fine. But isn’t a scalpership only able to profit because we set the price too low, or chose to play too small a venue? Maybe. But as I mentioned towards the top, we make our financial decisions based on what we feel is best for both ourselves and our fans. We try to get the right size venue and fill it at a ticket price that will sustain us, but we don’t always get it right.
If we were popular enough to sell our tickets for $500, would we do it? Probably not. Scalpers may not care if people call them unethical douchebags, but I guess I haven’t read enough Ayn Rand to shrug it off so easily.
But then, the scalper has no connection to or vested interest in our fanbase. Hell, for all our scalpers know we could be a heavy metal band, American Idol finalists, or a puppet show. Their interest is only in our draw, not our content. And if they did know what we do, they might question our own value to society. Couldn’t we instead have applied ourselves to improve the world by becoming, say, scientists or social workers? Sure, as can be said for most people.
But even if we’re not saving the world, there are enough people who like our dick jokes and sarcastic humor enough that we can rightfully claim that we produce value to them in the form of happiness. Definition #1 at the top says it pretty well.
As for scalpers? They’re definitely #2.