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Scalping And Scarcity: The Economics Of Live Music

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Scalping And Scarcity: The Economics Of Live Music

Music News

Scalping And Scarcity: The Economics Of Live Music

Scalping And Scarcity: The Economics Of Live Music

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/111493538/111494369" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With the record business decimated by illegal downloading, the live concert represents the ailing music industry's biggest source of revenue.

John Seabrook is a staff writer at The New Yorker. His work has also appeared in Harper's, The Nation and Vogue. Courtesy of John Seabrook hide caption

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Courtesy of John Seabrook

But as journalist John Seabrook reports in The New Yorker, the live concert business has yet to reconcile two competing sides of its identity. For the world's leading concert promoter and ticket seller — LiveNation and Ticketmaster, respectively — a concert is a moneymaking venture. For diehard fans of top-grossing touring artists like Bruce Springsteen and U2, it's a unique experience of "instant cousinship" with other fans (as one pioneering promoter puts it).

Meanwhile, Internet scalping on sites like TicketNow and StubHub has drastically changed the the economics of concert-going, pushing the market prices of tickets much higher than artists and managers sometimes set them.

The live music industry has grown over the past 40 years from a predominantly local business run by individual regional promoters to one almost entirely dominated by LiveNation and Ticketmaster. In early 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that the two companies were preparing to merge, a move that would have consolidated the whole business under the roof of one corporate monolith.

Around the same time, controversy erupted, reaching as high as the U.S. Senate, when tens of thousands of Springsteen fans who logged on to Ticketmaster in February to purchase tickets for a May arena concert were diverted to the scalping site TicketsNow — which Ticketmaster owns.

Ticketmaster blamed the episode on a software glitch, but the fact that the ticket-seller stood to gain from the higher prices on offer at TicketsNow was not lost on the thousands of Springsteen fans who complained to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. The scandal underlined the problems facing the live music industry and the difficulty of finding a solution.

John Seabrook joins Fresh Air to talk about some of the possibilities. Seabrook has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993. He is the author of Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace and Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture.