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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Auction sites bite back on touts
By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Internet auction sites have been criticised by concert promoters, who view them as enemy number one in the fight against ticket touts. Here two such sites - eBay and viagogo - defend their position.

The scene is familiar to music lovers up and down the land.

You hammer the telephone, open numerous windows on the internet, but you still fail to get your hands on a ticket for your favourite band.

eBay headquarters
Hundreds of tickets exchange hands on eBay every day

Within minutes the concert is sold out and your dreams of rocking with The Police or reliving your teenage years with Take That are shattered.

Or are they?

Within seconds, internet auction sites are awash with tickets selling for two, three, four times what they were a few minutes earlier.

It is tempting, and many succumb to buying from that secondary market.

Promoters estimate up to a third of tickets are resold.

And it is a situation the music industry fears will get worse, laying the blame firmly at the feet of so-called "bedroom ticket touts" and the internet auction sites they sell them on.

It is an accusation the sites feel is unjustified.

Gladiators

"Consumers actually like having the option of going to the secondary market," says Eric Baker, chief executive of "ticket exchange" website Viagogo.

The way the primary market stands, the odds of getting a ticket is stacked against the real genuine music fan
Vanessa Canzini, eBay

On Viagogo, the seller sets the price or can auction the ticket. Viagogo guarantees the seller is paid, and if the buyer's tickets do not arrive or are fraudulent, it will find replacements on the secondary market.

Viagogo charges the seller 15% commission and the buyer 10% for the pleasure.

Mr Baker, whose previous - and similar - company Stubhub sold more than $400m worth of tickets in 2006, rejects suggestions that his site gives sellers a legitimate platform on which to peddle their tickets.

"People have resold tickets since the days of the gladiators," he says.

"They were probably very enterprising teenagers, asking if people wanted to pay more to sit next to Ceasar, or whatever.

"The reselling of tickets is not going to go away, so the question is how do you make it a better situation for the world that we live in today, and I believe this is it."

'Perfect market'

EBay, the biggest internet auction site, holds a similar view.

Eric Baker
Eric Baker says Viagogo is making the secondary market safer

"We come at this from the standpoint that tickets are personal property," explains eBay corporate reputation manager Vanessa Canzini.

"Like a book or CD, people are free to resell them if they want to for as much as the market will bear.

"We have been called the 'perfect market'. Supply meets demand and people pay what they think something is worth."

EBay disputes that large-scale ticket touting takes place on its site, citing research by ICM last year that showed nine out of 10 eBay sellers who had listed tickets in the previous 12 months had listed less than five.

"What we do see is people who resell their ticket because they can longer go, or, if we are being honest, will sell two tickets then buy another two to make a profit on them, but it is very, very small scale."

Ms Canzini says it is up to the music industry to tackle touts if they feel it is a growing problem.

"We feel promoters and organisers put the tickets in the hands of touts in the first place.

"They sell them to people in bulk, or have phonelines and websites crashing because of a stampede, then they expect us to police the mess that they create in doing so.

"The way the primary market stands, the odds of getting a ticket is stacked against the real genuine music fan. Most people don't have time to sit on the internet all day trying."

Teenage boy in his computer
So-called 'bedroom ticket touts' sell their wares on sites like eBay

Recently some promoters have tried to beat eBay at their own game, by auctioning the best seats at some concerts, and undermining the secondary market.

'Official' auctions

The Police, Beyonce, Genesis and Justin Timberlake were done in this way, with bids for Timberlake starting at 265 on one official site.

It is a new technique that makes eBay bristle.

"They will auction off up to ten rows of a concert at a time. The higher the bid, the better the seat location. We don't think that is particularly transparent," says Ms Canzini.

As a result of "summits" the government has held with the music industry and auction sites, eBay decided to make sellers disclose the face value of their tickets, but concert promoters want eBay to go one step further.

They want eBay to make sellers print the serial numbers of the tickets they are selling to prove they have them.

But eBay is reluctant to enforce this, as promoters could then void the tickets under the terms and conditions of the original sale.

This, Ms Canzini says, would hit music fans and penalise the genuine sellers.

"I can't go to a concert, I list my ticket, you buy it, you go along on the night - a genuine fan - you are devastated to be told that the tickets are voided. That's not acceptable."

"Let's not forget that the secondary ticket market was around long before eBay came on the scene, and it will be around whether eBay is there or not."


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