Friday, 29 June 2012

Don't take it standing up

As Jimmy Carr attempts to rehabilitate his image in the wake of the tax-dodging scandal, it’s nice to know that not all comedians are cash-hoarding one-percenters with nothing but disdain for the great unwashed.

Take Louis C.K. for example. He may not be a household name in the UK, but in the States he’s even more prolific than Jimmy is here. Which is really saying something, given that half the population probably see Carr’s off-putting babyface whenever they close their eyes, like they’ve been staring at a lightbulb for too long.

As well as writing and starring in his own sitcom, Louie, he does voice-over work and is a regular face on the late-night talk-show circuit. He also releases a recording of every one of his live shows, with a new special appearing every year since 2007.

Interestingly, his most recent full-length concert, Live at the Beacon Theater, saw Louis trying a new business model for distribution. Rather than releasing the show on DVD, he offered it as a DRM-free download from his website for just $5.00, believing that this would strengthen his connection with the fans, and help to combat online piracy. Within two weeks, this bold new approach had netted him a million dollars. Just remember that next Christmas when you see Peter Kay releasing yet another 50-minute compilation DVD culled from the approximately two hours of material he’s ever performed.

Buoyed by the success of his approach, Louis decided that there was an even better way to support the fans, and in doing so took on perhaps the most objectionable Goliath in contemporary entertainment – Ticketmaster. Once again, using his own website as the distribution channel, he offered tickets for his latest stand-up tour for the fixed price of $45.

As he explained in an open letter: “Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that. High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices. Some ticketing services charge more than 40% over the ticket price… By selling the tickets exclusively on my site, I've cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price.” He must have hit a nerve with fans, since he managed to shift 100,000 tickets in under 48 hours.

Anyone who’s ever been wallet-raped by Ticketmaster is probably vicariously punching the air right now, since the success of his experiment will hopefully inspire other artist to try a similar approach. Maybe one day, we’ll all be able to book tickets for a gig without having to pay an assortment of made-up fees for non-existent services.

I’ve never understood how ten percent of the final cost can be down to administration charges. You choose the venue, the date and the seat yourself, and fill in the form online. So who exactly is doing all the administration work? It’s like Sainsbury’s charging you extra to use the self-service check-out. And then there’s the postage and packing fee. On average, it’s a couple of quid per ticket. Admittedly, that’s no huge amount, but it’s still a stretch given that the ticket is a thin strip of paper, not etched into the side of a housebrick. And let’s not forget my favourite charge of all – the credit card booking fee. Having already stumped up the extra cash to pay a company that sells tickets to, you know, sell you a ticket, you’re then charged for the privilege of paying for said ticket. It’s not even as though there are a bunch of options for making the transaction – click here if you’d prefer to offer up a human sacrifice or barter livestock.

I’m sure it won’t be long before Ticketmaster’s shareholders start pressuring them for more profit, so they’ll need to find clever new revenue streams. Twenty quid to stop the ushers from sticking their fingers in your ears for the duration of the concert. Fifteen if you’d like to opt-out of a mandatory stabbing on the nightbus home. Another tenner if you’d like to be facing the stage, rather than the back of the auditorium. And a cool fifty if you don’t want to have the seats you actually ordered, automatically replaced with standing-room only tickets for The Wiggles.

Help us Louis C.K. You’re our only hope…

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