Can Internet Justice Stop Ticket Scalping?

The Sinclair cancelled a man's ticket order after he posted it to Craigslist.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Is internet justice the solution to the persistent problem of concert ticket scalpers?

On Monday, The Sinclair in Cambridge demonstrated how such a world might look. As Luke O’Neil recounts for, it began when a scalper posted to Craigslist that he was selling two $65 tickets to an upcoming Weezer show for $250 each. On Twitter, O’Neil and Weezer fan Craig Silva brought the guy to the attention of The Sinclair. Silva gave the venue the Craigslist poster’s name and phone number. The Sinclair’s people quickly looked into it, then brought down the swift sword of justice on the guy’s plans to make a buck (or five hundred.)

Of course, economists sometimes scratch their heads and wonder why musicians and fans get so upset about ticket resales. They see it as a simple correction of a market inefficiency. If people are willing to pay $250 to see Weezer, why isn’t the band charging that much? The state of Michigan actually moved to legalize scalping earlier this year, championing the rights of the Weezer-hating middle man.

Journalist Matt Yglesias, one of those wonky dudes who has “long been disturbed by good bands’ aversion to efficient demand-based pricing,” nevertheless understands why they might avoid it:

Optimal allocation of LCD Soundsystem tickets requires demand-responsive ticket pricing. But good rock bands are not composed of narrow-minded amoral profit-maximizers. Consequently, they’re motivated to price tickets at a lower level than the market will bear leading, in turn, to middlemen getting the rents.

Basically, finding the maximum your fans are willing to shell out to hear your music and then charging them exactly that is not really in the spirit of rock and roll. Some artists do it. As Adam Davidson writes for the New York Times, Barbra Streisand leaves no room for scalpers by pricing her tickets very highly. But, then, this makes people angry at Barbra Streisand.

Allowing ticket transfers also permits opportunists who never wanted to see a certain show to drive up the demand for the price anyway, knowing they can make money on the resale. Giving people the flexibility to unload their ticket if they suddenly can’t make a show is one thing. But encouraging middlemen to treat concert tickets like oil futures, while very much in the spirit of free-market capitalism, is definitely not in the spirit of rock and roll.

The point is, ticket resale might make economic sense to some. But a lot of bands don’t want it happening, preferring other allocations that give their less-moneyed fans a chance at seeing them. More and more, though, people are using the internet, through sites like Stubhub and Craigslist, to seek buyers for their once-reasonable, now-very-pricey tickets. Making them non-transferable and policing any internet-public attempts to circumvent it, as The Sinclair did, seems like one way to keep the artists’ intent in tact.