Will Craigslist drive scalpers out of business?

If I want good seats to a sold-out show, I wait until the last minute and buy via the Internet. How long before everybody else figures this out?

Ticket scalping has been a hot topic in the music industry for years, causing a lot of uproar and complaints among music fans.

The sad fact of the matter is that lots of parties in the music industry try to sell secondhand tickets for a markup. Ticketmaster owns a premium resale service called TicketsNow. It also owns a resale exchange, TicketExchange, which lets any individual (including scalpers) buy or sell a ticket. Even artists and managers frequently take their allotments and sell them on broker sites for a markup, as The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Worst of all is the fan club scam, where fans pay for the right to get in line for presale tickets--but joining the club doesn't necessarily get you a ticket before the scalpers have snapped them all up, as Keith Urban fans in Nashville recently discovered.

I can't get too angry, though. I haven't bought a ticket from a scalper in years, and I've never gone through a ticket broker. I get good seats well after they go on sale and can usually get into sold-out shows. And they almost never cost me more than the original retail price.

It's not magic: it's Craigslist. I wait until a few days before the show, then run a search for the band I want to see. Inevitably, I find a few people who bought a ticket then had an irresolvable conflict. These are normal people--not scalpers, just fans like you and me--and they almost always settle for what they paid, or even less. If I'm not happy with the price, I move on--there always seem to be more sellers, especially the on day of the show.

You can't get tickets to this Friday's Pixies show through the official site for the venue, STG Presents, but there are plenty of tickets at fair prices on Craigslist.

This month alone, I've scored floor seats to Steely Dan well after they were gone from Ticketmaster's site, and a pit ticket to Friday's Pixies show, which is entirely sold out. I've had such good luck that I'm considering abandoning Ticketmaster and other ticket sellers completely. The seats are better, they're the same price or cheaper, and I'm usually helping a fellow fan out of a jam.

There are ticket brokers and other professionals gumming up the ads on Craigslist, but you can scope them out pretty quickly--they often list ticket prices as $1 (because they're actually selling lots of tickets at different prices) or have some other giveaway like an overly generic headline ("Great seats") or obviously inflated prices. Regular fans tend to list the exact seat number in the ad and a price that's pretty close to what they paid.

There will always be some demand for professional ticket brokers; people who want to impress an important business client with great seats don't want to wait until the last minute and risk striking out. And for some shows, fans would rather sacrifice a body part than sell their tickets--I'm thinking of the early shows on the 2007 reunion tour by The Police, for instance. But for many shows, Craigslist is a far better deal than the professional sites. Which makes me wonder how long they'll last.

 

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