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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. In tough economic times, conventional wisdom suggests people will still pay for entertainment. So far that seems to be the case this year for the concert industry. But as Joel Rose reports, promoters are bracing for what could be a shock in 2009.
JOEL ROSE: Neither the falling stock market nor a light snowfall can dampen the spirits of Madonna fans tailgating in the parking lot before her recent arena concert in Philadelphia. Betsy Kershner(ph) came down from New York City and paid $600 dollars for a ticket.
BETSY KERSHNER: I would spend anything for Madonna, like it's ridiculous how much I would spend. Like everyone is, like, oh, it's too expensive, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm like, shut up.
HEIDI EVANS: I'm a Madonna articulator.
ROSE: What does that mean?
EVANS: I get everybody together to come to see Madonna every time I go.
ROSE: Heidi Evans is a nurse from Mays Landing, New Jersey. On further questioning, she admits the $200 she paid for a ticket made her think twice.
EVANS: I did waver for a moment, but I am here tonight to party, and that's it. I am here to vogue, damn it. Bring it on.
GARY BONGIOVANNI: Surprisingly, the concert business has been pretty robust so far this year. We're not experiencing a down year.
ROSE: Gary Bongiovanni is editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert industry's trade magazine. But Bongiovanni is quick to add that most of those tickets were sold long before the stock market collapse that started in September.
BONGIOVANNI: The real impact is going to be going forward. It would defy logic to think that it's not going to have some kind of an impact on people's willingness to spend money on things like concert tickets.
ROSE: That's certainly what Wall Street is thinking. Analysts downgraded the stock of Live Nation, the country's largest concert promoter and the one that famously signed multimillion-dollar deals with Madonna, U2, and Jay-Z. This month, Live Nation stock lost two-thirds of its value. The company declined our request for an interview, as did Ticketmaster. The national ticket broker saw its third quarter profits drop 76 percent over the year before, in part because of slower ticket sales. Some independent promoters say they're seeing a modest drop in sales. Seth Hurwitz owns IMP Productions, which produces concerts at the 9:30 Club and other venues in the Washington, D.C., area.
SETH HURWITZ: The really hot acts are still doing great business. They're selling out. What I'm noticing is sort of the not-so-hot acts that might have gotten away with doing decent aren't doing as well. So people are definitely picking and choosing with a little more discretion.
ROSE: Artists may be picking and choosing their venues more carefully too. Alejandro Escovedo played to a sellout crowd at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, a club named after the NPR distributed radio show.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "ALWAYS A FRIEND")
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: (Singing) Wasn't I always a friend to you...
ROSE: The club's talent booker, Karl Mullen, says the current economic storm may contain a silver lining for smaller clubs like his and the artists who play there.
KARL MULLEN: They call it the underplay, so to speak. So instead of having to fight to sell a thousand tickets in the market, they will come in here and sell out a five or even a six hundred ticket show.
ROSE: The downturn may have other benefits. Pollstar's Gary Bongiovanni says falling demand could prompt artist managers to do something they haven't in the last decade or so, cut ticket prices.
BONGIOVANNI: The last thing they want to do is put a tour on sale, and nobody will line up at the ticket windows. This is one time to try and leave money on the table and just play it conservatively.
ROSE: That might even go for superstars like Madonna. Her tour wraps up tonight in Miami, and the show is not sold out. For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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