Ticket scalpers face competition from new app

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My first contact with Ed Vedder was short and curt — a quick, one-line email with no punctuation — but it was something.

“Hey I sell tickets what did you want to know.”

No, I hadn’t received a personalized message from the front man of Pearl Jam, but after weeks of no response, this was just as much of a victory. I’d thrown a net into the vast sea of Craigslist and pulled in a scalper.

Vedder is a ticket-broker, also known as a scalper, a fleecer and a number of synonyms used for individuals or organizations that resell event tickets, typically at a higher price than the ticket’s face value.

The ticket resale industry is estimated to be worth $4.5 billion for 2012 in the U.S. Worldwide, it’s estimated to be a $9- to $15-billion industry annually, most of which goes into the pockets of people such as Vedder and other, larger ticket-brokering organizations.

While there is no legislation in place to stop people like Vedder from scalping tickets online or outside venues in B.C., the social stigma surrounding these ticket-brokers makes them a finicky and cautious group. As quickly as I had caught Vedder, he disappeared back into the wild.

In Vancouver, however, a new app developed by a group of recent UBC grads is making waves in the world of ticket sales — and the creators are not being secretive about it. The Good Nights app, a paperless ticketing system that gives promoters and artists total control over event ticketing, could potentially put scalpers such as Vedder out of business.

The app allows consumers to buy and sell tickets directly from their smartphones, eliminating the need to chase down paper tickets or deal with ticket resellers in person.

“Because it’s completely paperless and used through mobile phones, you’re eliminating paper tickets,” says Nashlyn Lloyd, media relations for Good Nights. “The reason it helps with scalping is that you can track every single ticket that’s sold and see who’s bought each one. If someone tries to resell a ticket, the promoter can put a price cap on it, say it’s not allowed at all, or they can say they want a certain percentage of the surplus that the scalper sells the ticket for. The promoter and artists have 100 per cent control of how the tickets are sold.”

After users create an account, either through an existing Facebook profile or through an email login, the Good Nights app allows them to scan QR codes off of posters or handbills or right off the Good Nights website and instantly buy tickets on their phone. The smartphone then acts as a ticket when buyers get to the event. If you’re not one of the Apple or Android brethren, the app sends your information to the venue and all you need to get in is a piece of photo ID.

Yet while the app’s scanning and purchasing functions work perfectly well, the app currently doesn’t allow you to search for tickets from your smartphone. So it is not, functionality-wise, a one-stop ticketing app.
Although the app is still a bit clunky, the Good Nights site is easy to navigate and makes ticket purchasing simple and fast. The site utilizes a Pinterest page to display upcoming events, allowing users to pin events they’re interested in or have bought tickets for and share them with friends. Once you’ve selected an event, it’s as easy as scanning the QR code off the site and downloading the ticket to your phone, or buying the tickets directly from the site.

The app comes at a time when ticket scalping is being scrutinized across North America.

In 2009, NDP arts critic Spencer Chandra Herbert proposed an amendment to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act that would make it illegal for a supplier to resell any ticket for more than the printed price. The amendment was not passed.

Herbert’s proposed consumer protection in ticket sales amendment came after class-action lawsuits against Ticketmaster were filed in 2009 in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta: provinces where there is legislation against selling tickets above face value. The lawsuits alleged that Ticketmaster, the largest provider of tickets in North America, diverted tickets for certain events away from its own site in favour of its higher-priced, ticket-brokering subsidiary, TicketsNow.com, causing consumers to pay hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars above the printed price on the ticket.

While Ticketmaster settled the lawsuits out of court, offering a refund of $36 (minus $8 in lawyers’ fees) to qualifying ticket buyers, as well as making changes to their ticket resale practices, they did not admit to any wrongdoing.

In a billion-dollar industry controlled by international organizations like Ticketmaster as well as a fleet of quick-talking street scalpers outside every major venue, the people behind the Good Nights app are looking to change the way we buy and sell tickets. Yet although the app is gaining momentum in Vancouver and expanding across Western Canada, it still has a long way to go if it wants to challenge the ticket-selling hegemony, making Ticketmaster and people like Vedder safe — for now.

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