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Music | Opinion

The Price of Music: What Ticketmaster's "dynamic pricing" means for the future

Last week, music fans were left reeling after one particular practice of their nemesis, Ticketmaster, was highlighted as part of an online discussion. Only a mention of the name is enough to send a shiver down the spine of any well-meaning consumer of music. For such a long time Ticketmaster has dominated the global market with a monopoly, their place at the top of the pile never once challenged by an opponent of worth in a situation that doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon.

There have been numerous occasions in which Ticketmaster has faced legal action for its methods, musicians accusing the company of employing underhand tactics to tighten its grip on the market in a way that can only be described as corporate greed. However, many were only alerted to what is perhaps their most unscrupulous tactic last week when the issue of their “dynamic pricing” was brought to the fore yet again by social media.

Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” plot has actually been operational since at least 2018, and it is a concept that we’re all very familiar with. Think of Uber’s “surge pricing”, or the fact that the prices of plane tickets rise exponentially when the demand is high. Here you have what Ticketmaster so futuristically name “dynamic pricing”. This means that when the demand for tickets is higher, so are the prices. This raises Ticketmaster’s market share and value, and whilst making more money for the artist and venue due to pre-existing contracts, it also leaves the audience’s wallet increasingly empty.

As highlighted by InsideHook last year, perhaps the most famous instance of fans falling foul of Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” came back in 2018 when Taylor Swift followers were surprised to find that the only way they could purchase tickets for her Reputation tour was to agree to the “outrageous” prices that Ticketmaster was dictating for them, as Swift had partnered exclusively with the marketplace for the tour.

“If you went on Ticketmaster in January and pulled up a third-row seat for Taylor Swift’s June 2nd show at Chicago’s Soldier Field, it would have cost you $995,” Rolling Stone reported following the furore caused. “But if you looked up the same seat three months later, the price would have been $595. That’s because Swift has adopted ‘dynamic pricing,’ where concert tickets — like airline seats — shift prices constantly in adjusting to market demand. It’s a move intended to squeeze out the secondary-ticket market — but it’s also left many fans confused as they’re asked to pay hundreds of dollars more than face value.”

For anyone that has followed Ticketmaster’s practices for a prolonged period, the adoption of dynamic pricing is a means of squeezing the secondary market because they regard scalpers as their most potent existential threat, wanting to consolidate their power. However, regardless of how shadowy the secondary-ticket market can be, with its widespread rent-seeking practices, it’s never going to be enough to topple the monopoly that Ticketmaster has due to the long-standing influence the company has secured with artists and venues. 

For years, and before the 2010 merger with Live Nation, the company has pitted itself against the secondary market, seemingly in a bid to whitewash its image, wanting to neutralise the negative press they’ve recieved from its anti-competition practices. Herein lies the crux of the problem. For Ticketmaster, it is all about anti-competition, to the point that its struggle to dominate the highest possible percentage of the global ticketing market threatens to be the thing that pulls the rug from under them. 

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However, it doesn’t look like any significant change will occur soon, considering that the industry is attempting to recover from the pandemic and the fact that, for venues and the most prominent artists, Ticketmaster remains a fruitful relationship that works. Setting up a functioning website that doesn’t crash when on-demand tickets are placed on site, having a network to validate tickets, and a customer service wing is highly expensive for venues and not worth the investment during this economic climate. Of course, some venues do their own ticketing, but often it’s for no tangible financial gain. 

We have to remember that Ticketmaster is a middle man between the artist and their fans. It’s the artist and their team who set the value of tickets in each section for the venue, and Ticketmaster adds fees on top for the use of their platform. As one Reddit user points out, in the agreement between Ticketmaster and an artist, the act is given a choice on how much of the marketplace’s fees they want to pay for and how much they elect to pass on to the consumer, and clearly they often pass this on to the fan.

Therefore, Ticketmaster offers an easy service for venues and artists, and with their long-standing connections, it’s a relationship that works for all parties bar the consumer. There’s a reason that more artists don’t stand up to Ticketmaster; it’s a marriage of convenience, and with the concept of dynamic pricing, it only looks to be a relationship that becomes more profitable. 

So what does Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing mean for music? Well, right now, not much. In terms of the market shifting out of Ticketmaster’s hands, the consumer needs the biggest artists in the world to speak out — and in favour of other platforms. However, like with the economic system that this debate is a product of, this is the status quo, and until there’s a total overhaul, not much will change. 

Ticketmaster could stop this practice by people boycotting their service, but this would have a negative knock-on effect on artists as well as their fans, with musicians losing out on their main point of income and fans not watching their favourites live. As this seems unlikely, government intervention could also stop it, but that too seems improbable for obvious reasons. 

We all need to speak out on this practice in the hope of getting the most famous artists whose live tours are worth the most to rethink their partnership with Ticketmaster, as they’re the ones who determine the real price we pay. We need to force the middle man out and bring down “dynamic” ticket pricing. Still, I can’t help but think that this is becoming just the first front in what is shaping up to be a battle between artists and their fans, as they grapple with a dwindling market due to the loss of revenue from streaming as they look to the live circuit as the last way of making any genuine money. It’s moments like this where the future of music as a career choice looks incredibly bleak.

Watch an in-depth discussion on Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” below.

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