Thursday, December 14, 2006

Online Ticketing

Time was when I felt I had purchasing tickets from Ticketmaster and similar services wired. If you began dialing into their phone system about five minutes before the tickets you wanted were released for sale you'd invariably get a place in the priority queue as soon as the system kicked in. Using this method I scored front-row seats for Miles Davis and a number of other popular acts—and obviously I'm talking about the 1980s here. It was a pretty simple business transaction, as it should be.

With the introduction of the Internet, Ticketmaster,, ticket sales went online, and the results have been routinely abysmal. I hear stories of system crashes and other assorted frustrations, and my one experience trying to score tickets for Bruce Springsteen's tour for The Rising illustrated just how far things had deteriorated. The next time I went looking for Springsteen tickets, I bought them from someone on eBay.

Now, I'm lucky because I see more than enough shows that are comped that I don't have to deal with the system all that often, but occasionally there's a show that forces me into the online ticket meat grinder. Case in point: next summer's Keith Jarrett Standards Trio show at Montreal's Place des Arts. The Montreal festival is notorious for making precious few media tickets available for shows like this, so to ensure tickets I had to buy them when they went on sale last Saturday. Besides, the show's the weekend of my birthday and my wife loves Jarrett, so it works out all around.

Except... the primary online buying method was to use Place des Arts' site, and the form was improperly formatted. I watched my Row C seats turn into Row F and then Row M while I tried to get it to work. No luck. No luck phoning, either; the line was busy each time I dialed. Finally, I tried Admission's site (the Quebec equivalent of Ticketmaster) and wound up with a pair in Row T.

Why isn't this easier? I can't imagine demand is that much higher for tickets like this than it was 20 years ago—especially when the face value for the Jarrett show is $100. How do these online ticket services mess things up so badly? Just another example of how the institutional side of the music business has missed the boat on technology. I just finished writing an article on new media and culture that reminded me of how badly the record business mis-judged what digital technology would bring, and this ticket thing is related.

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