Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Ticketmaster Is Fighting a Losing Battle Against Scalpers by Making Purchases More Difficult for Fans

Jason Koebler, Vice:

For four years during college, I bought and scalped tickets on the side. I didn’t use bots and I wasn’t good at it. I ultimately lost a lot of money. But I did learn quite a lot about the ticket scalping industry. And I learned enough to know that the “anti-scalper” strategies Ticketmaster has deployed in recent years benefits scalpers, not fans.

It is the full-time job of thousands of people in the U.S. and around the world to buy tickets during hectic Ticketmaster onsales and sell them at jacked-up prices. When Ticketmaster tweaks how sales work, scalpers have lots of time and incentive to learn how to optimize for its new systems and to circumvent its anti-scalper tech. By making onsales more complicated, Ticketmaster is hurting average fans who buy tickets using the site only a couple times a year and helping the people who buy tickets every single day, in dozens of different onsales.

I was reminded of this article today as I attempted to buy a couple of tickets to a low-demand show that definitely isn’t seeing mass orders by scalpers. Point of clarity: scumbags they may be, ticket scalpers do not actually collect human scalps.

I started on my phone, because I was in the kitchen making coffee. I have the Ticketmaster app, but it had logged me out at some point. So I had to go through all of its prompts to pick bands and artists to get emailed about — no, thank you — to switch on push notifications, and all the rest of it. I signed in using my complicated saved password, which had apparently expired, so I had to go through their whole password reset process. Expiring passwords are bullshit.

Anyway, I tapped the button to get tickets and I got an all-white screen with a flashing loading bar for maybe ten seconds, and then an error: “unable to identify your browser”. I do not know what this means. The error page says I need to have JavaScript and cookies enabled — which I do — and that I can’t use a proxy or VPN — which I am not.

I switched over to my Mac and tried in Safari, Chrome — the browser for people who don’t give a shit about their privacy — and I even brushed the dust off my copy of Firefox. I got the same error in all of them. I tried again on my phone using LTE, and had the same problem. Their website is apparently so secure that I simply cannot use it to buy tickets; last year, however, a Canadian investigation found that Ticketmaster was complicit in scalping. Live Nation Entertainment — the parent company of both Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which were somehow permitted to merge in 2010 — has exclusive contracts with some of the biggest venues in North America, too, so they’re impossible to avoid.

So I guess I’ll try buying tickets in person, at a booth, the way my ancestors once did.