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Cool Kids Ticket Sales

March 30th, 2005 · 3 Comments

Mini-debate over in a DCist comment thread about the practice by clubs like the 9:30 Club of doing ticket presales for certain high-demand shows, announced discreetly on their message boards or through the club’s newsletter. Some like the idea of rewarding “rabid fans”; others regard this as elitist bollocks.

I see a rationale that doesn’t have anything to do with supposing that the “rabid fans” are particularly meritorious or somehow deserve the tickets by dint of their devotion or anything like that. What does, I think, make sense is the idea that given a scarce resource (a ticket) there’s nothing wrong with trying to allocate it such that the people to whom its most valuable end up with it. Normally, we do that via prices—clubs could have an auction process via which people bid for tickets, maybe with all paying the price offered the last person assigned a ticket. For a variety of reasons there’s little point in addressing here, clubs have decided they don’t like price discrimination, so they just charge a flat fee. One consequence, especially when the Internet eliminates the wait in line as a commitment-filter, is that die-hards can be crowded out by someone who heard Band X on The O.C. and is mildly curious but basically indifferent between attending the show and doing any number of other things. The latter are not somehow intrinsically less worthy, but it’s inefficient for them to be allocated the ticket. And there’s actually, at least arguably, a network effect there as well: I suspect that even those in the second group prefer, ceteris paribus, seeing a show at which there are a certain proportion of the first group. (More generally: The appeal to, say, a 15-year-old a given scene will often consist in part of its not being wholly constituted by other 15 year olds.) So the discrete announcement strikes me as a mostly unobjectionable filter mechanism that’s just an updated version of camping out in front of the box office.

Tags: Art & Culture



3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 PJ Doland // Mar 30, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    Wouldn’t it make considerably more sense to try and charge those most desperate to see the show the most money?

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Mar 30, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Maybe. As I said above, clubs have a variety of reasons for not doing that (though there is some price discrimination re: seating at some fancier performance events, of course) which, whatever their merits, aren’t likely to change right away, so I figured better to gloss that. One reason has to do with those network effects: to the extent that the most die-hard fans may nevertheless not be affluent enough to compete in a pure auction, there’s an incentive to not crowd them out. Consider what the musical Rent did when it opened: It sold very cheap tickets for the first few rows to people who camped out and waited. They did this, not because they’re especially charitable, but because they recognized the PR benefits of cultivating who’ll be hyperdevoted and talk up the show, even if they can’t necessarily afford a primo ticket price.

  • 3 Will Baude // Mar 30, 2005 at 8:11 pm

    I think the rationale Julian cites in the last sentence of the comment above probably does a lot of the work. People who spend a lot of time on the internet hunting for information about the group are likely to be the same people likely to talk up a good show, and that word of mouth is valuable both economically– since it helps to sell future shows, cds, etc.– and psychically– since nobody becomes a rock star just because they want the money.