Saturday, March 10, 2007
mo' money, mo' problems

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone (except, perhaps, a shareholder) who has anything nice to say about Ticketmaster. Countless music fans have a story about the website crashing, how they lost out at an outlet because of that infernal random draw system that they employ, or how they battled the automated phone line at 10am on a Saturday, only to be left ticket-less and wanting to strangle the robotic voice on the other end. But the thing that seems to grate on most people is, of course, the service fees.

The solution for Vancouverites has long been to forgo TM in favour of patronizing one of the local independent record stores (something that I've long encouraged). But lately things have been getting way worse on the pricing end of things at the city's most popular indie record joint. A quick look at their prices (keep in mind these are their online prices, so I think you can probably knock off a buck or two 3 bucks in person) and what you'll pay on ticketmaster.ca after the "convenience charge" shows that... well, that someone's making a considerable amount of extra cash (percentage-wise).

Ratatat will currently run you $21.25 on TM and at Zulu it's listed at $27.25.
CocoRosie is $23.25 from TM and $29.25 from Zulu.
The Zombies would've run you $40.25 if you bought them earlier today on TM, but somehow the price was a whopping $51.50 at Zulu.
LCD Soundsystem will set you back $31.55 at TM and $41 at Zulu.

Now consider that Red Cat has the Acid Mothers Temple show listed for $20 + 20% service charges ($24) and Zulu's charging $27.

edit: Zulu adds $3 a ticket to online charges, so you can subtract $3 from that if you want. Although, keep in mind that the TM prices I used were online and are delivered free by standard mail. (thanks to Scott for the info)

I've heard from several people (and I haven't been able to confirm it) that once Zulu sells out of its original allotment of tickets they can only get more at TM's price, which they then add their own service charge to. Now obviously this type of pricing isn't going to gouge you as badly as the guy standing outside a sold out Commodore the night of a big show, but if that's true and they're selling tickets that you just could've picked up on TM otherwise, how is this much different than scalping? If it's not true, what explains the fairly significant price difference?

The Sea and Cake are at Richard's on May 14th.

Color Magazine's presenting an all-ages "evening with" and lecture by Andrew WK at the Ridge on April 5th. I don't know if the "evening with" part means he'll be performing as well as talking, but you can catch a performance of some sort later that night at the Bourbon when he'll lead a DJ Session/singalong. You can't make this stuff up.

now playing: Test Icicles - Your Biggest Mistake

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11 Comments:

From my experience hunting down a Shins ticket I can add that Scratch AND Red Cat both overcharge the same way. Noize does NOT (in fact, the man there who sold me my Shins ticket with a small $2 service charge was the one who pointed out this whole business to me). Fuck Zulu. Seriously.

By Anonymous rachel, at 8:13 p.m.  

Yeah the service charges are frustrating. In Zulu's case their online prices are always significantly higher than in-store, as you mentioned. Example: At the store a couple weeks back they had LCD tix for $29.50, versus $41 now online (the 2nd batch effect may be kicking in here as well). I recently looked into the s/c situation at local outlets for a show I'm putting together: Zulu and Scratch mark up 20% on all tix, Highlife marks up $2 on tix priced under $25, and Red Cat marks up 10% on tix priced under $14 and (I think) 20% for more expensive tix. So for local shows that typically cost $8-$12, Red Cat is the winner. And for Richards-type shows often $15-$25, it's Highlife. (Except according to the Highlife clerk, Sealed With A Kiss never sells tix at Highlife, for some reason). At least they're all still usually cheaper than TM, except for the 2nd batch phenomenon. But considering the amount of effort required to pull a ticket out of the drawer and sell it to a customer, plus the associated bookkeeping, you'd think $1 a piece would be plenty. Not to mention it brings customers into your store.

By Blogger Andrew, at 8:14 p.m.  

Zulu adds $3 to ALL online prices. It's nicer on more expensive shows when looking at it as a percent ($17.50 for a $14.50 show is way worse than $33.00 for a $30.00 show).

I live in Sechelt, and buy tickets online often thru Zulu since TM doesn't list a lot of the shows I see. Since I'm adding $45 travelling costs to every show I see, I don't really notice the few bucks difference here and there between TM and Zulu -- and I feel a lot less dirty buying thru Zulu.

Just feel lucky to live in such close proximity to the shows and ticket outlets.

I remember a whiny blogger that lived in Vancouver last year saying (about seeing Broken Social Scene at Deer Lake Park): "Going to Burnaby for a show is a pain in the ass."

By Anonymous scott, at 8:30 p.m.  

Been fuming about this for some time. I was astounded to buy an online ticket, through TM, to LCD for 10 bucks less than what zulu charged instore. TM is notorious for gouging (convenience charge, ticket printing charge, ticket delivery charge, and building surcharge) yet somehow they are cheaper than local record stores? Suddenly ticketmaster is the cheapest option? I never could have predicted the day.....

For a venue like the commodore, which is tied exclusively to TM + HOB, TM fees make a reasonably priced show - 23 for LCD - become 10 bucks more. What we don't need now is for zulu to scrape another 10 bucks out of our gig-budgets.

And the two-tier ticket system is bullshit. Essentially, local shops sell a small (as in 20-30 tickets) batch at the actual ticket price. When these sell out - whoops you got a bit of excitement generated there - they up the price by 10 bucks for round two. Nothing, nothing at all, can justify the cost increase. It's a major cash grab that is simply taking keen music lovers to town to see a band they love. And why is the S/C at Redcat charging 20% on the more expensive tickets? It's the same piece of paper! The same tiny hand movement that removes it from a drawer and hands it to you? The exact same 5-second transaction!

SWAK, Timbre, etc: Can we please buy tickets at your office so we can avoid these established scalpers?!

And don't get me started on zulu's "import" prices (c'mon, sub pop records are sold at scratch for $11.50) or their "wow! it's onsale for 20 bucks prices" - arcade fire on sale for 16.98? What, does zulu pruchase from a-b sound for 9.99 then mark up themselves?

I used to think the local record shops were "on our side" when it comes to fostering an appreciation for music, local or otherwise. Now I'm coming to see them as a part of the problem - an industry like any other out to make a buck.

By Anonymous dave, at 1:10 p.m.  

this zulu ticket pricing issue is one i've previously mentioned on the comments here.

my theory is zulu employees are told to play dumb since if they are reselling TM tix they are technically breaking the buyer's terms of agreement of promising not to resell the ticket. since TM doesn't necessarily enforce this provision what with everyone selling on ebay and such, but if an actual retail store tried it, their lawyers would have to go after them to protect the integrity of their "terms".

however, TM is probably well aware that zulu does this and doesn't care since they're getting a gaurenteed sale out of it

By Blogger Pinder, at 8:14 p.m.  

I have to come to Zulu's defense here. A lot of the stuff Dave is saying makes me angry, because there's a lot of misconceptions going on there, and I have to deal with angry customers every day who have the same misconceptions.

First off, though, I'm really bummed that we raised our service charge to 20%. I don't like charging people that much. Also, there's been considerable confusion among the staff and from upstairs about how to implement the new fees. Why LCD Soundsystem is actually ten bucks cheaper at TM I can't really explain. I'm pretty shocked.

Most peoples' complaints, though, have to deal with how we shouldn't make so much money for taking a ticket out of a drawer. Be aware, however, that ticket sales make up a huge percentage of our daily business. I believe about a third of the money we make (gross, not profit) is from tickets, and the bookeeping is actually a huge, time-consuming hassle. Back when we were charging 10%, that meant that we were only making 10% on a third of our sales. You can't really run a business like that, especially not a record shop in this day and age. Our boss has said many times that he would just prefer not to sell tickets at all, because they're troublesome merchandise that's a lot of hassle for not much money, but it's just expected of a record store, so we basically have to. Also note that we've now implemented a $3 cap on that "second batch" fee. We're gouging you slightly less!

About our "import" prices. The "import" stickers we put on things are not indicative of anything, really. They're there so we ring them in separately from major label titles, so we can tell on the take at the end of the day how much we're making on indies vs. major label titles.

Does Scratch actually sell Sub Pop titles for $11.50? We get a deal from Select distro now that means that certain Matador and Sub Pop titles (and a couple other assorted labels) are $12. I have a feeling Scratch just has the same deal. No indie record store can sell albums for 9.99 or $11 like A&B does. A big record store like that gets huge volume discounts that we can't compete with, and they literally sell things below cost to draw people into the store. We couldn't stay in business if we did that. Also, if you hadn't noticed, A&B n a crazy tailspin and I've heard rumours that their new owners may stop selling music entirely because they're losing tons of money.

We're barely getting by as it is. When Scratch undersells us (which isn't as often as people make it out to be), they do so because they make their money by being a distro and the store is just a thing they have out front.

Finally, we just cut a new deal with all the majors (we're not dealing with a middle man anymore), so quite a lot of our major label titles have gone down a couple bucks in price. happy birthday.

oh, and Andrew WK is only going to be speaking and DJing when he comes, no rock n' roll. I think he's taking a breather.

By Blogger Saelan, at 7:34 a.m.  

Thanks for clearing some stuff up, Saelan.

I certainly didn't intend for this to become some Zulu hate-on. I still get most of my records/cds there, and should've preempted any complaints about CD pricing with an explanation of how A&B sells loss leaders, and major chains get big volume discounts.

Plus, I realize there's more to selling a ticket than "pulling something out of a drawer." I'm just still a bit shocked that the prices are coming out as more expensive than TM. If Zulu is making the exact same percentage in fees as TM, I honestly do think they're charging too much (as I think TM overcharges), but I'd still rather support it than some gigantic conglomerate. That being said, if the gigantic conglomerate is still making its money and Zulu is only getting cash over and above the TM price... I just question why they'd sell that round of tickets. It seems like a way of punishing people who've gone out of their way (and perhaps are willing to pay more) to shop there instead of HMV or something.

By Blogger Quinn, at 2:06 p.m.  

Good points all. It's my personal opinion that we shouldn't be selling that second batch of tickets. What's weird is that ticketmaster charges us exactly the same for that second batch that they charge their customers. It literally like we're just buying them from TM and then reselling them with an extra three bucks tacked on. That's pretty messed up.

One other thing, though -- as a retailer, we don't enter into an agreement not to resell the tickets at a higher price. That's an agreement that's made between TM and direct customers. When tix arrive for us, they come with a note that acknowledges that these tix are here to be sold by us at a premium.

Still, it's a nasty business. I know that Ditch in Victoria used to sell tickets at cost with no profit made. But it being Victoria, there'd only be tix for, like, five to ten shows at any given time, so it wasn't a big deal. We sell tix for about 80 shows at a time.

By Blogger Saelan, at 5:07 p.m.  

Hey Quinn, this conversation you've created is incredibly interesting, and clearly important information to concert-goers in Vancouver. What about doing a Streethawk feature on it?

By Blogger Josh, at 10:32 a.m.  

Yes thanks Saelan for providing the retailer's perspective on service charges and the ticketmaster situation. I agree with Josh that this is a very interesting topic and Saelan's comments confirm there is considerable misunderstanding involved.

Despite the service charges, I also still shop at Zulu, largely because I appreciate their extensive ticket service. And having been involved promoting shows I do agree that the bookeeping and administration they do for tickets is substantial.

Actually, the more I think about this the more fascinated/fixated I am becoming with this topic. Good discussion everyone.

By Blogger Andrew, at 7:16 p.m.  

Josh: While it is pretty interesting, I don't know how willing the parties involved would be with talking about the issue.

By Blogger Quinn, at 2:42 p.m.  

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