Stray notes from SXSW III: Ticketmaster’s trickery

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As I continued mulling over what really bothered me most about Friday’s interview with Ticketmaster CEO Sean Moriarty, it finally struck me: the slight of hand comparing Ticketmaster fees to cable TV and ATM fees, which hits at the heart of the lie behind the company’s PR efforts.

Ticketmaster provides a service, as does the cable company and a bank ATM. But the cable company charges the same every month, no matter if you watch one hour of TV or 100, and if you watch a movie on demand, it’s the same price, whether it’s a blockbuster or an obscure indie film. Similarly, the ATM charges the same fee whether you’re withdrawing $20 or $200.

In the end, it costs Ticketmaster no more money to provide the service of selling a $30 ticket or a $300 ticket, yet the fee for the former might be $7.50 and the fee for the later $37.50.

Of course, the company needs to maintain and upgrade its infrastructure; no one denies it that, just as no one denies it should be reasonably paid for the service it provides. But wouldn’t one ATM-like fee across the boards and per transaction be much clearer and more fair? Moriarty’s arrogance toward journalists aside, why shouldn’t consumers keep questioning the price of those service fees and demanding the pie-chart breakdown how much goes to Ticketmaster? the artist? the venue? when no one can see any logic behind the differing fees other than kickbacks to promoters and artists on one hand, or Ticketmaster’s greed on the other?

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