Thursday, March 05, 2009

Leonard Cohen, the Public & Ticketmaster

I really love Leonard Cohen. He is one of the best songwriters anywhere, ever. In his weird and wonderful way, he is a great singer. And a great poet and novelist. I would be happy to pay very good money to see him on his farewell tour. Due to well known and sad circumstances involving his former manager, he now at the age of 74 really needs the money and, in any case, he absolutely deserves it.

But I would not be happy to pay several hundred bucks or more for a $68 face value seat to a related reseller of Ticketmaster that somehow reportedly magically acquired virtually all of the National Arts Centre’s seats available to the public for primary sale on March 2 within seconds of their supposed general availability to the public.

Cohen will see none of the obscene mark up of several hundred per cent. Even on the face value of a ticket, Cohen would see only a fraction of the proceeds after the concert hall, his management etc. are done with him. Once again, everyone profits on the back of the artist.

There are many reports that these tickets were never available to the general public at advertised prices, due to the arrangements between and behaviour of Ticket master and Ticketsnow. , which is reportedly owned by Ticketmaster and is supposedly “reselling” the tickets supposedly sold to the public. In fact, its been reported that Ticketsnow actually resells tickets before the primary sales start:
SIMON HOUPT (Globe and Mail)
E-mail Simon Houpt | Read Bio | Latest Columns
February 26, 2009
NEW YORK -- Concert fans hit Ticketmaster with more accusations of improper behaviour yesterday after reports surfaced that the ticket giant's wholly owned subsidiary TicketsNow was selling seats to upcoming Leonard Cohen shows at wildly inflated prices even before Ticketmaster offered them for sale to the public.

The real tragedy here is that Leonard Cohen is the one who deserves to retire with some comfort and to retain a significant amount of what the public is willing to pay to see him perform. He is being cheated of that. Once again, the real creator and the general public are the victims of a corporate controlled system, over which Federal officials are reluctant to exercise even basic oversight.

Canadian laws should be enforced so as to protect creators, and not those who gouge these very creators and the public by exploiting them. In fact, we have such laws. However, earlier yesterday it was reported that:
Masood Qureshi, a senior officer with the Competition Bureau, said Ticketmaster is allowed to “charge what the market will bear."
This, of course, was utterly predictable, utterly wrong, and unfortunately utterly consistent with the ultra laissez faire approach of the Competition Bureau in recent years to just about anything other than often fairly minor deceptive (tele)marketing practices, and false and misleading advertising

Fortunately, Industry Minster Tony Clement - who is showing some real promise of being an effective Industry Minister (cross your fingers on copyright!) - has stepped into the breach and once again effectively overruled the Bureau. This follows a reported “rebuke" of the former Commissioner of Competition, Sheridan Scott, by the previous Minister, Jim Prentice, following a Federal Court judgment that was very critical of the Bureau.

There are many provisions in the Competition Act that should be looked at in this situation based upon what's been reported. For example, one could begin with the crucially important conspiracy provisions in s. 45 which are:

45. (1) Every one who conspires, combines, agrees or arranges with another person

(a) to limit unduly the facilities for transporting, producing, manufacturing, supplying, storing or dealing in any product,

(b) to prevent, limit or lessen, unduly, the manufacture or production of a product or to enhance unreasonably the price thereof,

(c) to prevent or lessen, unduly, competition in the production, manufacture, purchase, barter, sale, storage, rental, transportation or supply of a product, or in the price of insurance on persons or property, or

(d) to otherwise restrain or injure competition unduly,

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding ten million dollars or to both.

(2) For greater certainty, in establishing that a conspiracy, combination, agreement or arrangement is in contravention of subsection (1), it shall not be necessary to prove that the conspiracy, combination, agreement or arrangement, if carried into effect, would or would be likely to eliminate, completely or virtually, competition in the market to which it relates or that it was the object of any or all of the parties thereto to eliminate, completely or virtually, competition in that market.

So, hopefully the hundreds of well paid paid enforcers in the Federal Competition Bureau and the Federal Department of Justice can figure out whether they can stop a practice that has caused such massive outrage, and punish those responsible if the law so indicates. If they can, that might help to do something to help Leonard Cohen and the Canadian public. If the State of New Jersey can nail Ticketmaster, then it's not too much to expect the Federal Government to at least try.

Bravo to Ontario AG Chris Bentley for turning on the heat
and perhaps thereby prodding Minister Clement to get involved. But this is really a matter for the feds and is of concern throughout Canada.

This occasion should remind Minister Clement of the extreme importance of appointing a successor to Sheridan Scott who will vigorously enforce the Competition Act, especially at a time when laissez faire deregulation and abandonment of oversight has proven so obviously to lead to excess greed and serious economic failure. The Competition Act was, at least once upon a time, seen to be a key element of the infrastructure for ensuring market efficiency, integrity and consumer protection.

Leonard, I hope that this all works out. For your sake and that of your millions of adoring fans, a.k.a. "the public."



  1. I do not support the re-selling, but it does not negatively effect the artist's income - they enter into a deal with their promotoer or agent and know what their cut will be before the tickets go on sale; the re-sold ticket is sold by the promoter at its original price - the reseller's mark-up is a business profit for the re-seller if he/she can be successful.

  2. Dear 2:31

    You seem to be assuming that the "re-seller" is actually "re-selling" tickers acquired at arms length from the public who got them at arms length on the primary market. That assumption may not be warranted here, if the reports are true.

  3. And of course if the artist or the artist's management knew that the effective price at which the tickets would be offered to the public were going to be so high, they might have negotiated a bigger piece.

  4. FYI here in Los Angeles Cohen's concert tickets are all tied up by AmericanExpress for several days before they allow them to go on sale to the public. What's that all about? AmericanExpress credit card company - the same that is paying $300 to card holders who can't pay to send in their cards.

    Go Leonard!!

  5. FYI AmericanExpress is holding hostage all the tickets for days and days before they go on sale to the public. The same AmericanExpress that is paying $300 to its cardholders to send in their credit cards. What's that all about?

  6. Dear 3:15

    You are assuming that the virtually immediate (in this case) resale market reflects what should have or could have been the pricing for the primary market. The reported information in the media strongly suggests otherwise, especially if there never was a real “primary market” open the general public and if other steps were taken to “enhance unreasonably the price”.

    One has to assume that Cohen's managers and the venues would base their pricing decisions on a an efficient, arms length and legally functioning market.

  7. If competition law can't ensure that the market functions legally, it isn't doing its job. If people were prepared to pay so much to see and hear the great man, then morally the greedy corporates are taking money from him - although I suspect that the people who pay that sort of money are also the sort of people who pay no attention to the performer and probably spoil it for the real fans by talking throughout. My solution - which is just slightly self-denying - is not to buy tickets other than at face value - here in England they add a "booking fee", but what else is buying a ticket other than booking a place? The only solution is surely to ban the resale of tickets altogether: anyone who diensn't need a tocket they bought should return it to the venue to sell to someone else.