Can anyone explain gig ticket charges to me? What are those "convenience costs" and "building fees?" Shouldn't these extras be included in the actual price, or is there some secret place no one has ever told me about where tickets can be bought without them? And why do the supplementary costs get bigger as the tickets themselves go up in price? Are more expensive tickets heavier and therefore harder to handle? Are they made from swan's tears and gold leaf? Or does all the extra money we're handing over cause additional wear and tear to a ticket agency's bulging pockets?
Imagine if record stores did the same thing: you would take your $11.99 Kenny Rogers CD to the checkout, and the clerk would start ringing up $7.85 in previously unannounced service charges, a $2.50 handling fee, a mysterious $1.15 add-on for "store expenses," plus $1.94 tax, before asking for a total of $25.43. Chances are your response would include a suggestion for the disc to explore parts of the store clerk Kenny never thought he'd see.
A random survey of upcoming gigs reveals plenty of similarly silly ticket prices. At one end of the scale, Kelley Stoltz at Café du Nord is a bargain: tickets cost $10 each, and you can buy them direct from the venue (by phone or in person) for a reasonable $1 per ticket in fees, or via Ticketweb for $2.25. So that's a quick 10 to 22.5-percent markup, which may not be welcome but also isn't outrageous.
But if you want to see Green Day at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, a full-price $46.50 ticket from Ticketmaster comes with a $3 "building facility charge," a $9.25 "convenience charge," and a $4.20 "order processing" fee, to add $16.45 to the original price. This represents a pretty substantial 35 percent increase, and it's more than seven times the dollar cost of Ticketweb's fees for a Kelley Stoltz ticket.
Bon Iver at Oakland's Fox Theater, also through Ticketmaster, is even more ridiculous: a $22.50 ticket is lumbered with $12.55 in various, apparently unavoidable fees, which is an incredible 56 percent markup. And that's before you add the $7-per-ticket "event insurance" option, or mailing charges which range from $19.50 for two-day express courier to zero for standard mail -- bizarrely, you can even choose to be charged $2.50 for the privilege of printing out your own pass. Huh? Indeed, when you add it all up, the extras can end up costing more than the face value of the ticket itself, which makes no kind of sense at all.
Perhaps major-league gig promoter Live Nation is beginning to realize this. It has been offering tickets without service fees on Wednesdays throughout the summer, presumably to try to offset the effects of the current economic slump. However, this supposedly generous promotion only serves to shine a light on the extortion the company, and others like it, commit the rest of the time. The prices they all advertise for concert tickets are at best optimistic, and at worse downright deceitful. But it's only going to change when customers, faced with repeated nasty shocks at the checkout, stop clicking "buy now" and start saying "screw you."