Tickets Please!: Why we need a return to physical gig tickets

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There are, admittedly, a lot of things wrong with the state of the modern music industry. The closure of grassroots venues, criminally low pay-outs for streams, the way the charts are bought and sold by big labels, and ticket company monopolies charging fans extortionate fees to name just a few! But I like to think we’re all entitled from time to time to some petty little hill that we’re adamant to die upon, no matter how inconsequential it may be in the grand scheme of things. Some molehill that we’re determined to make into a mountain. That cause for me as of late has been the disheartening decline of proper physical concert tickets.

At first glance you can see appeal and the logic behind the shift to digital tickets; like so many changes to our established routines, it’s all in the name of convenience. Why wait for a piece of paper to arrive in the post when you can have the ticket sent straight to your phone? Instantaneously! Everyone has their phone on them at all times these days anyway, whereas it’s easy for a little rectangle of paper to get lost or forgotten. It costs a fair bit of money to print and post thousands of tickets, but sending emails costs basically nothing by comparison. Companies can pass those savings on to their customers, all while being a smidge kinder to the environment in the process. Some larger venues have even started using their own apps to process tickets, adding an extra level of security. 

All good ideas when taken at face value, but in practice there are a few flaws which I feel have only gotten more pronounced since the pandemic. When having trouble accessing my email a few months back, the biggest issue with this approach was glaringly apparent; technology is fallible in a way that physical tickets aren’t. All it takes is for Gmail to bug out and suddenly your tickets are gone. No accessing pdf files, not even able to see what the reference number is to chase up the issue with the seller. Ticket apps and venue specific apps aren’t much better either. They’re mainly used by the biggest arenas and stadiums for one, which means their usage fluctuates wildly between hardly any users and many thousands of people all trying to get at their tickets at the same exact time. That’s one hell of a stress test for their system, and in my experience apps are far more prone to crashes and glitches than websites are. Whether its issues with apps or emails, a lack of mobile data, poor 4G signal (looking at you Manchester), you name it, there’s a myriad of different technical issues that could keep you from your digital tickets. 

Being conscious of this – or paranoid, however you wanna phrase it – I’ve often grabbed a quick screenshot of my tickets just to have a back-up on hand. These days that’s becoming increasingly difficult however, especially with big venues and major ticket sellers shifting to apps instead of emailed tickets. These apps have security measures in place to stop you screenshotting tickets, (some not even showing you your own ticket till the day of the event), all presumably to stop resellers from scamming would be gig goers with duplicates of the same ticket. Anecdotally no regular gig goers I know have ever been scammed with these kind of fake tickets. Looking at it logically the scam just isn’t good business. Ticket resale sites will be keen to crack down on fakes that give their company a bad name and cost them money, and there are only so many of these sites for scammers to be banned from before the jig is up entirely. We’ve been robbed of the extra peace of mind that comes from having a spare copy of our own tickets, all in aid of preventing a nearly non existent issue. 

However, one scam that has proven big business is buying dozens of tickets when they go onsale and flogging them on resale sites for a criminally inflated price. Now there is an issue that has plagued nearly every live music fan in recent years, and one for which these security measures are next to useless. The more reliant we’ve become on digital tickets, the more prevalent this scam has become. It’s a lot more time and effort on the scammer’s part to sell and send away dozens of physical tickets than it is to sell digital files with a few clicks. Given the big resale sites are owned by the same parent company that sells the tickets in the first place, scammers can sometimes buy and immediately sell at inflated prices all on the same site or app. Compared to fake tickets, the big ticket companies have little incentive to help their consumers by cracking down on these schemes, when they themselves are the ones making the biggest profit from selling and reselling. 

Okay, so just buy physical tickets instead?” I generally do when the option presents itself, but more often than not, when I’ve purchased tickets post-pandemic, the only tickets available have been digital ones. It’s always nice to have more choices. Taking the choice of physical tickets away feels a little restrictive and discriminatory. I’m reminded of how in the pandemic there was a seismic shift towards contactless payments and scanning QR codes. Obviously I can see the sense in that, but it excludes everyone who is without access to that technology. If the only course of action if you want to enjoy live music is to have half a dozen ticket and venue apps on your phone, then there are always going to be people who are left out. Older and less tech-minded music lovers, folks that have saved up for that special gig and can’t afford a new smartphone on top of that when their tired and outdated device isn’t up to the task. Having at least the option to order a physical ticket would increase the number of people able to attend events.

You can’t even say, “well, at least I saved some money!” when buying a digital ticket. Many sites now charge the same price for digital as they do for physical. Asking for an obligatory “service” fee for something that costs them no time, energy or money, just because they can. If I’m paying the same price, I may as well have something to show for it. That’s the charm of tickets isn’t it? Beyond all logic and practicality it’s just nice to have a memento. Even if you can’t afford merch, you’ll still have some tangible souvenir from the evening. The sad truth is though, even when you can get your hands on a proper ticket, a lot of the inherent charm is missing. Long gone are the days when you’d have a colourful strip of card with the band’s name emblazoned in an eye-catching font to add to your scrapbook when the night was over. These days tickets lack any character, they’re all the same. Either something bland, corporate and matter-of-fact, or a tiny QR code surrounded by unsightly advertisements. Surely it’s time to revive the lost art of great gig tickets? All I’m asking for is something real; something I can find stashed in a box years from now, brushing the dust off of a colourful scrap of paper and thinking “wow, I remember that night”… is that really so much to ask?