For the second time in the past two years, Louis C.K. is conducting an interesting business experiment.
The comedian plans to cut out Ticketmaster for ticket sales for his upcoming 39-city tour across the U.S., instead using a ticket purchasing system through his website.
C.K.'s first attempt at shunning corporate middlemen came last year when he refused to offer a high-profile live performance on Amazon and iTunes. Instead, the comedian sold it exclusively on his own website and generated $1 million in sales in 12 days, which more than covered the video's production costs.
Now C.K. says he wants to liberate himself and his fans from the frustrations that plague the Ticketmaster buying process. He plans to work with online ticketing service Etix to sell tickets on his own site.
“Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that,” explained C.K. in an email announcement to fans. "High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices. Some ticketing services charge more than 40% over the ticket price and, ironically, the lower I’ve made my ticket prices, the more scalpers have bought them up, so the more fans have paid for a lot of my tickets."
C.K.’s announcement appears to have struck a nerve with a ticket-buying public that has become increasingly disenchanted with Ticketmaster. After years of paying multiple fees on tickets -- among them "delivery," “convenience” or “service” fees -- fans have taken the ticketing giant to court, challenging those fees' legality. The timing of Ticketmaster’s much-maligned corporate merger with LiveNation in 2010 magnified these proceedings, which took place in states from Arkansas (where plaintiffs charged Ticketmaster with deceptive trade practices) to California and Maryland. The cases have yet to be resolved.
While fees are one problem, scalpers and ticket brokers scooping up tickets and reselling them at exorbitant markups has led to similar confusion and anger, often when fans felt shut out of shows. Tremendous demand for Radiohead shows in New York last year prompted resellers to buy hundreds of tickets and sell them through online marketplaces like StubHub and TicketNow, which TicketMaster owns. At one point, the only available tickets cost $1,242, inspiring one desperate fan to offer his "slightly used" soul in exchange for tickets.
Tickets for C.K.’s standup tour will be sold at a flat rate of $45 without fees. "The benefit for me is that I won't get angry emails from anyone who paid a ton of money to see me due to circumstances out of my control. That makes me VERY happy," he said.
C.K. noted that any tickets being sold above face value will be cancelled, adding “this is something I intend to enforce.” But his enforcement methods may be limited to making tickets available only through will-call, otherwise he would have to patrol third-party sites and brokers in an attempt to monitor fraud.
For C.K. and other comedians or musicians, the risk of cutting out Ticketmaster lies in finding venues that are willing to hold shows with tickets sold through exclusive ticketing services, despite existing Ticketmaster contracts. The Ticketmaster and LiveNation merger reinforced lucrative long term-deals between the ticket sellers and the venues.
Seattle rockers Pearl Jam tried touring non-Ticketmaster venues in 1995 and 1996 only to run into immense difficulties that eventually fractured the band and annoyed fans who were unable to see the shows. By 1998, Pearl Jam had gone back to the ticketing service, and they’re still using Ticketmaster today.
But C.K. is willing to take the tougher route -- in terms of profitability, too -- if it means fewer fees and markups for his fans.
"I'm making less than I would have made if I did a standard tour," C.K. acknowledged in his statement. "Either way, I still make a whole lot more than my grandfather, who taught math and raised chickens in Michigan."
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