Home > General Politics > Opportunism and the free market

Opportunism and the free market

Ticket salesCapitalism survives in the space between the value of commodities produced by workers and the amount one has to pay those workers in order to produce. Most people don’t think of their wages like this – they think of them in terms of the purchasing power such wages bestow. If one can live comfortably, surrounded by material goods considered requisite then one is happy. If not, then one is not happy. How should Marxists relate to the ‘consumerist’ position of so many people?

It is hard, when considering instances where capitalism strikes directly at the purchasing power of the consumer, not to be reduced to talk of morality. Secondary ticket markets, such as Seatwave, which purchase tickets for concerts and then sell them on at a large mark-up, are effectively making money for no work. They make life harder for normal people whilst contributing nothing – not to the performer, the venue or the fan base. Such an industry is the ultimate parasite.

Recently the Commons’ committee on Culture, Media and Sport rejected the case for tighter regulation on such services. For the life of me I can’t see why such ticket touting is legal in the first place; it’s a multi million pound honey pot which attracts major venture capitalist firms and makes money out of making culture inaccessible to the poor. The call by ‘reputable’ parasites for industry-determined regulation and a voluntary code of practice are ridiculous – and so are the capitalist justifications.

On Radio 4’s consumer rights programme, a seller of these tickets declared that the free market should be allowed to operate. His argument was that if the tickets will sell at the higher price, then the tickets are undervalued anyway – and this is a self-correction of the free market. For me, this calls into question the point of a free market if only in this one area. Shouldn’t the economy serve people and not vice versa? The arguments of the Adam Smith institute that secondary selling is good for fans doesn’t stand scrutiny.

“An open and secure secondary market has got to be good for fans. Seatwave, for instance, offers a guarantee that the tickets it sells are genuine, 150% refund if they do not arrive on time, and a full refund if the event is cancelled (which is more than you get from many promoters).”

There is simply no mention of the fact that tickets which should cost £30 are being sold for £180 via these companies like Seatwave. How is that good for fans? As I have said, the money is not going to the venue, it’s not going to the performer, it’s not even going to the promoters, it’s pure profit being scammed off people by buying up a large proportion of tickets, narrowing the amount that can be purchased for £30 and then squeezing those people who were trapped on jammed phonelines and didn’t get tickets.

Also, a large proportion of these tickets are acquired via corporate malpractice. Various corporations will acquire free tickets for events, tickets which should not be sold on because by so doing it opens the gate to the touts. Supposedly tickets are acquired via ‘fan clubs’ in the same way, since these clubs might have deals to get X number of tickets to distribute to members. These get sold on – and the best the House of Commons can do is recommend a levy on online ticket resales.

The seeming immorality of the whole thing disgusts me – but immorality is not an easy word for Marxists to use. Perhaps a more appropriate manner to express this disgust is through anger at the gross exploitation of popular participation in culture. Adorno might be correct in his assessment of the culture industry, that it creates more consumer desires that must be sated, replicating itself in a manner that will never end – but in a world which cries out for a social nexus, even the basics of social interaction are worthwhile.

Categories: General Politics
  1. adrian
    October 18, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    There is simply no mention of the fact that tickets which should cost £30 are being sold for £180 via these companies like Seatwave.

    Why *should* they cost £30?

    These are interesting arguments but if the left’s answer is that the price should be lower there then needs to be some other way of rationing access – as we cannot all fit in the venue.

    Die hard fans, and not wealthy ones either, might argue that paying more to see their hero is better than paying less but never getting in because the odds in the rationing system (a lottery?) are stacked against them.

  2. October 18, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    It’s not that the tickets should cost £30. That’s a different conversation which will ultimately founder upon the division wherein I am a socialist and you are a capitalist.

    What I’m objecting to is the practice of reducing the supply of tickets via the normal manner at the normal price, then adding massive surcharges which push out people who can’t afford the extortionate price of £180 to see a concert that might otherwise have cost them £30.

    In this objection I’m operating within the parameters of capitalism, and within the parameters set by the fact that each performer sets their own concert dates and each venue can only hold X number of people. The only measure that needs be taken is to increase the supply by making illegal the practice of ticket touting.

  3. adrian
    October 18, 2008 at 5:16 pm


    You are the one who said they should cost £30, not me. It’s in your article.

    The supply of tickets isn’t reduced by charging £180 for them – assuming the market clears. Reducing the ticket price to £30 will not increase venue sizes and it voluntarist nonsense to suggest otherwise.

    I’m not defending ticket touting – I’m asking you what the alternative means of supply would be. You obviously cannot answer.

  4. October 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    You misunderstand. If I said they ‘should’ cost £30, what I meant was “they originally cost £30 pounds” according to the price on the ticket itself.

    The supply of tickets at £30 is reduced by ticket touting. It is reduced by all those practices which allow ticket touting to exist. The amount of tickets available at £30 to general fandom is decreased by people purchasing or acquiring multiple tickets and hanging on in order to hike up the price.

    If touting was outlawed and ticket selling practices were tightened, then by definition more people would be able to purchase tickets at their original price. Not everyone will see the concert because a venue can only hold so many people – but at least we wouldn’t be predisposing attendance in favour of those who can afford £180 against those who can’t.

  5. MOGmusic
    October 20, 2008 at 10:37 am

    The pricing of tickets on secondary marketplace websites such as seatwave is defined by market forces, pure and simple. The fact that some tickets are sold at over face value is more than counteracted by the thousands of tickets that are sold at face or less than face value.

    Some research on seatwave and other secondary marketplace ticket sites shows that a frankly tiny percentage of tickets are sold significantly above face value, however the ones that are obviously get a lot more media coverage as these are the concerts that attract mass media attention. If you spend an hour (as I have in the past) looking at such sites you will find that there are many many more performances with tickets that are cheaper than face value.

    As such these sites, such as seatwave and to a lesser extent smaller sites like viagogo and getmein provide a valuable service to distribute tickets for thousands of performances between genuine fans in a guaranteed and safe environment.

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