Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why do we regard ticket "touts" as evil?

It appears to be generally accepted that ticket "touts" - those who buy tickets for events at face value and sell them on at market value - are somehow malign.

Ignoring events where tight control over who purchases a ticket is important (the Register has an example of where this may be important... not that I'm convinced), can anybody make a credible argument for why those who trade tickets to events are any more evil than those who trade fruit and vegetables or those who trade shares or those who trade anything else?

I think I have a pretty robust argument for why ticket "touting" is a good thing that should be encouraged but I'd be interested in hearing the "anti-" arguments first....


Anonymous said...

Are you also ignoring the fact that touts neither pay any tax on their profits, nor offer their customers any sort of consumer protection (in the simplest form, a refund, but also the possibility of legal redress), whereas those who trade fruit and vegetables and those who trade shares are accountable to, and contribute to, society as a whole?

Richard Brown said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment.

Let's take the points in order

1) Tax

If somebody doesn't pay tax on their income, they are breaking the law - regardless of the way in which they made the money.

2) Customer protection - specifically refunds.

That's a good point. The purchaser would be entitled to a refund of face value in most cases without needing to involve the tout. I sense that there's a better argument I could deploy here, however.... need to think more :-)

3) "Contribution" to society.

Not sure what your point is here. I think you're committing the fallacy of assuming that, because you don't approve of an activity, it must have a malign effect on society.

What is your evidence that touts don't contribute to society as a whole?

I could argue (and perhaps will argue) that touts contribute to society by ensuring that those who are too busy or otherwise unable to purchase tickets the second they're released can still obtain them (for a price) *and* that they contribute by lowering the risk for promoters (they buy tickets without knowing if they will be able to sell them on thus providing capital to promoters earlier than they may otherwise have received it), etc, etc..... I think I need to understand a bit more of your argument here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Apologies for not being totally clear earlier (and forgetting to sign the post).

1) Indeed, if someone doesn't pay tax on their income, they are breaking the law. I therefore assume that you are suggesting that every member of the profession of touting (for want of a better word) should comply with all of the current rules.

However, how many touts do you think do so at the moment? (for example, considering income tax, National Insurance contributions, VAT on the transfer of goods? (et cetera)). How many do you think suffer the burden of compliance of many other small business?

I would suggest there weren't many! [as an aside, perhaps if they did, people would not regard them as "evil" as they do at the moment - your original question is "Why do we regard touts as evil?"]

I do not dispute that you could ask similar questions about traders in fruit and vegetables [surely not, though, about traders in shares?], but would respond that, by nature, the trade in fruit and vegetables is a more conspicuous trade, and therefore inherently more open to regulation by the appropriate authorities.

2) I'll let you think further... (i.e. I'm not convinced!)

2.1) Consider this situation. You purchase a ticket for an event you want to go to from a tout in the street, at a price greater than the face value of the ticket. You arrive at the venue a short time later and find that due to illness, the concert is cancelled at the last minute. You go back to the tout and find that he is nowhere to be seen. What rights do you have?

3) was actually meant to refer to the fact that if a trader/individual does not pay tax (and tax-like charges) then he does not contribute his fair share to society. It wasn't an attempt to malign the profession! I would agree with you that there are industries of which one may not approve and do not have a bad effect on society as a whole.

A few other random points:

4) You say, "that they contribute by lowering the risk for promoters".

Suppose, say, that 50% of the tickets are bought by touts and are unsold. The promoters do not know this, and cater for a sell-out. Although the promoters have received the ticket price, they would expect the average attendee to spend a certain amount of money on food / drink / programmes / tack (sorry, memorabilia), and would therefore employ sufficient staff / purchase sufficient goods to sell such items, based on the number of tickets sold. There is therefore a extra cost you have missed here, of the uncertainty of how many people will turn up.

5) You mention that we are ignoring events where the organisers need to have tight control over who purchases the tickets (e.g. sporting events, and I suppose also, political events). May I also throw another set of events in - if my memory serves me correctly, the Government (or one of its quangos) subsidised some theatre tickets to encourage those who did not attend to give it a go. Would you allow touts to buy these tickets and sell them on at inflated prices? [we are not discussing here the merits of the Government subsidy of the arts!]

I will be intrigued to read your own arguments as to why ticket touting is a good thing...


Jon Deane said...

There's not really a big moral issue here. However, if touts didn't bulk-buy tickets in the first place, they wouldn't sell out so quickly in the first place and normal human beings could buy tickets for reasonable prices instead. I.E., the market for touts is created by the touts. Which is fine, I suppose.

Unlike trade of groceries, though, there is no value addition - price isn't based on costs of delivery, storage, display and then a commission, but merely a straight-forward extortion.

As for shares, that's just gambling and doesn't count in any sensible discussion on the morals of trade :p

Polly Shaw said...

I am impulsive, spendthrift, and shy, and thus have benefitted from the services of touts when I have been too disorganised to buy tickets in advance and two nervous to approach random members of the public. I approve thoroughly of their contribution to the liquidity of the entertainment market, and don't resent the 300% mark-up.

However, I might as well explain one objection. Sometimes a benevolent impressario, such as the BBC, puts on a show with a limited audience and it hopes to give the most deserving in society the opportunity to benefit. It feels resentful when the most deserving in society decide that they prefer money to the well-intentioned show, and sell the tickets to those who are less deserving, but value the show more. In a sense the impressario feels that it still owns the tickets, though they have been given away freely.

Jon Deane said...

(Excuse the repetition in my previous comment. I have scheduled my suicide for sometime in 2050.)

Polly Shaw said...

another elliptical point:

Non-benevolent organisers of events want to price the tickets so that they raise the most revenue. By over-pricing, they take a risk that they will not sell enough. Touts who buy in bulk are not arbiteurs; they take a risk that they will not sell all their tickets at a profit. They are either people with higher tolerance of risk than the organisers or people who have responded to an initial mispricing: self-interested, but motivated by the same incentives as someone who actually wants to see the show and rushes to buy a ticket before they sell out. I can't fault them morally on either ground.

Ben said...

Touts who buy in bulk are not arbiteurs; they take a risk that they will not sell all their tickets at a profit.

Presumably they will reduce their risk by touting "Kylie in concert" rather than "Deleuze and the Theory of Thought: The Universal Thought-Flow and the Structure of Stupidity".

Richard Brown said...

Hi Ben.

Indeed...... I am sure that touts will focus on events where their profit opportunities are greatest.

Presumably promoters of events whose tickets are priced closer to market price are able to capture more of the value and don't need to rely on the services of the touts