Festival fever

One of the big success stories for the web has got to be online ticketing. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of tickets for gigs, festivals, sporting events and even the theatre are sold online.

I reckon the big companies like Ticketmaster and See Tickets are cleaning up – though many people (including myself) still have a gripe with their ludicrous booking fees, which can be over 10% of face value.

And it’s good to see smaller operators like We Got Tickets selling tickets for smaller venues and being a bit more innovative – like by not issuing paper tickets at all, and instead relying on a “give your name and reference number at the door” approach.

I imagine the people behind See Tickets were crossing their fingers last Sunday when tickets for Glastonbury went on sale. It’s always a busy day when this happens – already this year the Reading and V Festivals had sold out in a matter of hours.

People trying to buy tickets have to go through all the frustration of hitting the refresh button again and again to try and buy tickets from a website that’s struggling to deal with the whole world trying to access it at once.

This system’s more efficient, in that the tickets sell out more quickly. But you could say it’s less fair. Unlike a telephone queueing system, or standing at a box office, there’s no waiting in line. It’s a free for all, and priority goes to the lucky ones who get on the site first.

This year’s Glastonbury sale was a case in point. In a bid to eliminate ticket touts, you had to pre-register, sending a photo that they’ll print on your personalised ticket.

Then on Sunday morning, anyone who’d registered could try and get onto See Tickets to buy tickets. I spent almost two hours pressing refresh. I didn’t see the ‘buy’ page once. But a friend got on fairly quickly and was able to pick up tickets for all of us, by the simple means of completing one transaction, then pressing the back button to fill in the order form again.

The site didn’t seem to time out. If I’m right (and I don’t pretend to know the technical side of this very well), it means that once someone got onto the page once, they could go through the buy process again and again, picking up tickets for their friends as well as themselves.

With a network of friends on MSN Messenger, it was easy to keep track of who had tickets and who didn’t, and try and get them for everyone.

That was fine for us. But it seems a trifle unfair to anyone not so clued up on these things. We played the game, and won. But anyone who didn’t realise what the rules were is perhaps entitled to feel a little upset.

There’s no perfect solution, of course. And things have moved on a lot from when online ticketing was in its infancy. I really admire the people behind Glastonbury for taking such steps to stop the touts at all. But next year, maybe they can do something to make it even fairer.

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