In my New Year’s manifesto for the arts, I said that something must happen about those iniquitous booking fees and other irritating charges that ticket buyers for arts events are landed with. Something almost did, and in record time.
This week Parliament rejected changes to secondary ticketing (the websites that charge sometimes hundreds of pounds for tickets to supposedly sold-out events). So much for having the consumers’ interests at heart. Meanwhile, a letter to The Independent on Sunday signed by pop royalty the Arctic Monkeys and the manager of One Direction as well as pop’s most famous promoter Harvey Goldsmith and others including Lisa Burger, executive director of the National Theatre. demanded more transparency, such as the face value of the ticket, seat number etc being clearly indicated.
To be frank, even if the changes demanded by the Arctic Monkeys and the others had gone through, I would only have given two cheers. For, to judge from the many emails I receive from readers, it is not secondary ticketing that is their biggest headache. Indeed, I can’t recall one single reference to it in the many hundreds of readers’ complaints about booking fees that I have received. It’s the wretched ‘primary’ ticketing that bothers audiences: the booking fees and handling charges that are so often added to the price one sees printed on the ticket.
Now, isn’t it odd that the Arctic Monkeys and One Direction do not protest so volubly about this. Why don’t they refuse, as the comedian Sarah Millican admirably did, to perform at venues which put these charges on tickets? I’m afraid I suspect that the howls of protest about the secondary market are a neat diversion to take attention away from the real concern of consumers. Most of us don’t use the secondary market to buy tickets that often. But we do buy tickets from venue websites and the normal well-known ticket agencies on a very regular basis. And nearly every time we have to pay booking fees.
Yet, the giants of the pop world are strangely silent about this. And Ms Burger of the National Theatre has yet to denounce publicly the leading theatres that charge audiences these fees. Well, at least they have all made it clear that they are unhappy about seeing fans exploited. So I know that the Arctic Monkeys and One Direction will want me to detail here the booking fees and other charges levied on ticket buyers when they next play live. And I will be happy to do so.
These bands have recognised that they have clout, and their protests about fees make news. They are quite right. It is really only when artists join with consumers in demanding more transparency and fairness on ticket prices that changes will come. So now they must be consistent and make their feelings known about the charges that affect the vast majority of their fans. They could start the ball rolling by refusing to play at any UK venues where fans are obliged to pay more than the cost printed on the ticket.
The year of BBC self-congratulation
The BBC this week launched The Year of Song and Dance 2015. It’s a grand title and was a grand launch, with the director-general Lord Hall himself introducing the 'year'. There will be performance, competition and explorations of popular song and opera. But isn’t this exactly what the BBC has been doing for ages and should, of course, be doing all the time? What exactly justifies calling it ever so grandly The Year Of? I suppose we can now expect The Year of Drama 2016, followed by The Year of Sport 2017.
Too much of a good thing
If you are keen to see The Merchant of Venice, you can do so at London’s Almeida Theatre. If, on the other hand, you are keen to see The Merchant of Venice, you will be able to do so shortly at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. And if, by any chance, you fancy seeing The Merchant of Venice, you will be able to do so this summer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. It’s just a surprise that the National Theatre hasn’t got in on the act. Do our leading theatres ever think of getting together for a planning meeting?