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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: In the cacophony of ticket resales, many music fans will continue to lose out — unless regulators step up

Simon Winchester’s recent account in The Eagle offered a first-person perspective on a once-simple endeavor now beset by pitfalls for would-be concertgoers: buying the tickets.

In a tale both harrowing and good-humored, Mr. Winchester tells of purchasing tickets online to James Taylor’s July 4 concert at Tanglewood. He typed “Tanglewood Tickets James Taylor” into his internet browser and clicked on one of the first results: TicketSales.com.

Long story short, Mr. Winchester did find the tickets he was seeking, and at a price far steeper than anticipated. Only after the purchase went through did he realize he was out more than $5,000 for four seats in The Shed: $998 per ticket plus more than $1,100 in service fees. The original price for prime Shed seats at the sold-out Tanglewood concert was $600. Too late did Mr. Winchester realize he had been gouged by a ticket reseller — one that didn’t offer refunds.

Mr. Winchester’s pain is shared by countless music fans and artists alike. Leave aside for the moment the unscrupulous practice of shady billing and fee practices that can trick even savvy folks into unexpectedly eye-watering prices. The ubiquity of ethically dubious vendors who employ bots to instantly buy up reams of tickets online and then resell them at a massive markup puts a tight squeeze on everyday music fans who wish to see their favorite big- and even mid-level touring acts.

Unlike “traditional” analog scalping, the modern digital version that’s now more common is, unfortunately, completely legal. Here’s hoping that changes in the near future. Live Nation Entertainment, a giant in the concert industry, recently leaned on Congress to legislate limits on resale sites’ practices. Live Nation’s proposal includes outlawing speculative ticketing (resellers offering tickets they don’t actually own yet), laws limiting bots from buying reams of tickets at once, ensuring fees aren’t hidden and giving artists greater say on how their tickets are sold on secondary markets.

Live Nation isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Its push for a so-called “Fair Ticketing Act” comes as it tries to deflect growing heat from fans, artists and officials accusing the company of unfair and anti-competitive practices since its current iteration, Live Nation Entertainment, was formed with the merging of Live Nation and Ticketmaster a decade ago — a merger that allowed for some considerable vertical integration between already giant names in a top-heavy industry.

As the technology of ticket sales advances and the industry’s top players have become more powerful and less accountable, everyday music fans will lose out more and more. Even when you can secure tickets to top touring acts, you’re far more likely to have to go through unethical but legal resellers who extract exorbitant and obscured fees just for the privilege of being gouged by those armed with hyper-efficient ticket-buying bots and algorithms. Just ask Simon Winchester.

Folks who can afford it will wince but accept the only feasible way to hear their favorite artists live.

Meanwhile, music fans who can’t afford the time to log on exactly when presales go live or the disposable income to pay inflated resale prices are simply locked out from one of the joys of life.

Letter: Buyers must beware secondary ticket market

Save for the very small amount of people making large amounts of money off the backs of artists and fans, nobody likes this — including most venues and musicians. After The Eagle published Mr. Winchester’s account, James Taylor lamented “the pitfalls and scams hiding out there for the unwary would-be concertgoer,” while Boston Symphony Orchestra CEO Jeffrey Dunn sympathized with “countless consumers who have been duped by disreputable ticket resellers operating in an under-regulated online market.”

Concertgoers should educate themselves about the less-than-ideal paradigm of online ticket sales to prepare for and avoid the worst of resellers’ chicanery. Prominent venues and musicians can make a difference at the margins by enacting sensible policies that others might follow for a bigger collective difference. Venues could simply reserve a certain number of tickets for popular shows to only be available for purchase in-person or via phone at the box office — similar to Tanglewood’s plan to open their box office this month (earlier than usual for the season) to give Berkshire folks a chance to buy tickets outside the digital domain. And artists with significant pull can be purposeful when having their say on how tickets to their shows are sold — like what James Taylor does with pre-sales through his website.

Because of the systemic nature of the problem, though, it’s tough for even prominent individual actors to make a dent in it. The reality is that a regulatory framework lagging far behind technological advancement means the average music fan is walking into the Wild West when seeking concert tickets — and most are outgunned. We hope that venues like Tanglewood will continue exploring policies aimed at a friendlier user-experience. And we hope artists like Mr. Taylor and his one-time Tanglewood stage partner Taylor Swift continue to raise their powerful voices about the ills of the ticketing industry and realistic solutions.

But the realistic solutions that could really rein in the problem are going to lie with regulators and lawmakers — the only ones equipped to address widespread ticket resale practices that, despite being legal, so many find demoralizing and predatory. Fortunately, growing discontent does seem to be inspiring bipartisan energy to act in Congress.

On behalf of our friend Simon Winchester and millions of music fans, we certainly hope that action comes sooner than later.

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