Monday, July 28, 2014
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The real reason for paperless event tickets?

The spread of airline-style "paperless tickets" to concerts and sporting events is stirring a lot of debate. Ticketing companies such as Ticketmaster and Veritix tout them as a way to eliminate worries about lost or stolen tickets, according a story in yesterday's Washington Post. But writer Paul Farhi found more questionable aspects to the new system, especially as envisioned by the dominant company, Ticketmaster, in his piece, "'Paperless ticketing' aims to thwart scalping at concerts, sports events."

The real reason for paperless event tickets?

The spread of airline-style "paperless tickets" to concerts and sporting events is stirring a lot of debate.  Ticketing companies such as Ticketmaster and Veritix tout them as a way to eliminate worries about lost or stolen tickets, according to a story in yesterday's Washington Post. But writer Paul Farhi found more questionable aspects to the new system, especially as envisioned by the dominant company, Ticketmaster, in his piece, "'Paperless ticketing' aims to thwart scalping at concerts, sports events."

Ticketmaster's solution to the "grandma problem," just to take one example, doesn't pass the laugh test:

Unlike a conventional ticket, Ticketmaster's paperless tickets can't be transferred from a buyer to a second party (Veritix's technology allows for transfers). The inability to pass along a seat creates what's become known in the industry as the "grandma" problem. Since a paperless ticket buyer has to show up at the door at the same time as the rest of his or her party, it's almost impossible for a grandma living at one end of the country to buy a paperless ticket as gift for a grandchild living at the other end. On its Web site, Ticketmaster tells would-be gift givers to buy paperless tickets "on the credit card of the person attending the event and [then] reimburse them."

Another drawback: Groups hoping to attend an event can be shut out if the person who bought the tickets on the group's behalf fails to show up for some reason.

More controversial is how paperless ticketing could affect the ticket reselling business, a vast, Internet-based marketplace facilitated by behemoths like StubHub.com, Razorgator.com and hundreds of smaller brokers and dealers.

Ticketmaster says its paperless system is designed to undercut scalpers, such as those who scooped up large blocks of tickets to Miley Cyrus's concerts last year and resold them at extraordinary prices. The system ensures that tickets end up in the hands of fans, not speculators, a company spokesperson says, and at the prices established by the performer.

But without the ability to transfer virtual tickets, brokers and dealers fear being run out of business. Consumers would also have a harder time selling unwanted tickets. There

The airlines' e-ticketing systems have their drawbacks, but their efficiency is a big plus. Since airline tickets aren't transferable, anyway, the lack of paper ticket isn't generally a problem.

But concerts and sports events? Another ballgame entirely - and one Ticketmaster seems determined to win.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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