Time to bust Ticketmaster’s monopoly

I recently purchased concert tickets through Ticketmaster, and not only did they charge a stupidly abstract convenience fee (valued at about a third of the price of the ticket itself), but they then charged me a few dollars for the luxury of printing my own ticket.

How do they get away with charging me for saving on labor and resources? Because there’s no other way to get the ticket. If I want to go, I have to pay up. Ticketmaster and Live Nation own the concert industry, and we, the music fans, have had to suffer through the increasingly ridiculous prices.

Last year, Ticketmaster and Live Nation seemed to be parting ways after their contract expired. Concert-goers were hopeful that the divorce would result in the introduction of a little competition and efficiency, and maybe even some innovation, resulting in a lowering of Ticketmaster’s notorious convenience fees and ticket prices in general.

However, victory for the consumer was not to be. Live Nation’s attempt at ticketing turned out to be shoddily handled and has not improved much since its inception. Ticketmaster’s shares fell shortly after Live Nation announced the split, smaller ticketers and concert promoters did not find the market easier to enter and survive, consumers did not feel a decline in concert prices and overall, nothing changed. And then the economy hit reverse.

Amidst the current state of economic affairs, it’s no wonder both of these industry giants are suffering. Ticketmaster and Live Nation shares have plunged in the last three months. If the people that want to go to concerts no longer have income to afford rising concert prices, what’s Ticketmaster going to do? Raise prices even more? Sure—enter plans for a merger.

According to the Wall Street Journal, as of late Tuesday night a possible merger was on the table for Ticketmaster and Live Nation, respectively the largest ticketing company and the largest concert promoter in the industry. Such a merger could almost be seen as a pseudo-bailout plan at consumers’ expense. The new company would be called Live Nation Ticketmaster. Barf.

Regardless, this is a monstrosity of a merger that should be nixed immediately. What if Apple and Microsoft decided to merge? We’d consider it ridiculous. How could a merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster not be viewed as a blatant infringement of antitrust laws? And even more importantly, how could this possibly be acceptable to the consumer who would then have to face an even larger company owning most of the concert industry?

Once approved, the merger would have to go through a board of antitrust authorities. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), however, has been fairly lenient in the past. We can only hope the Obama FTC’s antitrust ruling won’t be as lenient as would be plausible of the Bush administration. If it goes through, I expect ticket prices will skyrocket.

There’s already little to no competition or consumer choice in matters pertaining to live concerts, even though shopping for everything else has gotten easier lately. If I can shop around online for the best price in health insurance, automobiles and books, why can’t I pick and choose the best price for tickets? What’s wrong with buying the ticket through the artist or the venue? I’ve used Paypal for ticket purchasing before. It was hassle-free and much cheaper.

Of course it can be argued that convenience fees are necessary because concerts require staffing, technology, etc., but I don’t understand how a $100 ticket comes with a $30 convenience fee while a $30 ticket has a $9 fee. Does it really take more to offer a $100 ticket than a $30 ticket? Is the technology dramatically different, more cutting-edge and all-out better? My guess is that Ticketmaster and Live Nation are just enjoying an absurdly large cut of the profits.

It is also unpleasant when tickets for multiple events go on sale at the same time on Ticketmaster’s website. And of course, good tickets are always listed as sold out (when they aren’t) or blocked off during initial sales so that consumers can then be charged even more for a resale/scalped ticket. The only seats that are ever available online are the nosebleed seats. Whatever happened to the good ol’ American way of first come, first serve?

In an industry that hasn’t been able to keep up with technological advances (bootlegging, piracy, etc.), high ticket prices are hurting them even more. There can be nothing worse than an even larger and stupider version of the already much-loathed Ticketmaster.