ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. The summer concert season is in full swing - or what passes for full swing in 2010. Gross revenues for the top hundred tours of North America are down 17 percent, compared with the first half of last year. Total ticket sales are down, too, by 12 percent. That's according to a new report from Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks the concert industry.
Promoters and artists are blaming the sluggish economy. But as Joel Rose reports, some say the industry deserves part of the blame for a rash of canceled shows this year.
JOEL ROSE: As summer concert tours go, Lilith Fair seems like a good bet. The festival of women in music features a different lineup for each city, anchored by headliner Sarah McLachlan, who's promoting a new album and single.
(Soundbite of song, "Loving You Is Easy")
Ms. SARAH McLACHLAN (Singer): (Singing) Loving you is easy. Loving you is wondrous and pure...
ROSE: But this summer has been anything but easy for Lilith Fair. Co-founder Terry McBride says the tour had to cancel 12 dates because of slow ticket sales.
Mr. TERRY McBRIDE (Co-founder, Lilith Fair): We're still very much in a recession. If it was just us that was being affected, then I would say - then it's Lilith. But everyone has been affected.
ROSE: Christina Aguilera, Limp Bizkit and the Jonas Brothers have all canceled shows or whole tours.
Mr. GLENN PEOPLES (Editorial Analyst, Billboard): The story of the summer is -so far, is overconfidence.
Glenn Peoples is an editorial analyst at Billboard. When these shows were booked, he says many of these acts assumed the economy would recover faster than it has, and that fans would spend money like they always have.
Mr. PEOPLES: It trickled down through what kind of tours were booked, the venues they were booked in, and what they were priced.
ROSE: The average ticket price is actually down from last year, according to the Pollstar report, to $60.77. And you can still sit on the lawn at most summer shows for under 40 bucks. But if you want to be anywhere near the stage for Bon Jovi or Ozzy Osbourne, you'll have to spend well over $300 per seat.
Longtime industry observer Bob Lefsetz thinks artists and promoters have finally gone too far.
Mr. BOB LEFSETZ: They're just greedy. It used to be people went to concerts on a regular basis, maybe once a month. Now, going to a concert is like going on vacation. The face value of a ticket is 250 bucks. Well, 250 times two, that's 500, plus parking, plus food. You're in for $750 if there's just two of you.
ROSE: Lefsetz thinks there's a limit to what consumers will pay, especially for a show they've already seen.
(Soundbite of song, "Take It To The Limit")
THE EAGLES (Music Group): (Singing) Take it to the limit, take it to the limit. Take it to the limit one more time.
ROSE: Even the Eagles, one of the most dependable touring acts of the last two decades, have been forced to cancel dates this summer. Still, with sales of recordings in decline, Billboard's Glenn Peoples says the concert industry is looking to squeeze out every last dollar it can.
Mr. PEOPLES: Everybody is trying to do more with ticket prices, earn more while on the road, stay out on the road longer. And it's not surprising that it might eventually come back to bite them in the butt.
ROSE: But veteran talent manager and former label executive Danny Goldberg doesn't think high ticket prices are the main problem.
Mr. DANNY GOLDBERG (Talent Manager): I think that it really depends on the artist, how recently they were in the market. If someone just played last year, it's less sexy or exciting than if they haven't played there for 10 years.
ROSE: Goldberg says stars like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are doing very good business in 2010. So is the tour pairing veteran songwriters James Taylor and Carole King.
Mr. GOLDBERG: The interest in seeing live music is very healthy. And if there are some concerts that are overpriced, believe me, next time into the market, the artists and the promoters will adjust the prices.
ROSE: Lilith Fair's Terry McBride, for one, thinks concert prices are due for an adjustment.
Mr. McBRIDE: I think the consumer has said this summer: too much.
ROSE: And not just by staying home. McBride says fans are more savvy about waiting until the last minute to buy tickets on sale or without paying the big service fees.
Mr. McBRIDE: They know that if they hold out long enough, the chances of them getting the tickets on a two-for-one promotion or some sort of special will actually happen. So they just hold off. It's almost like the consumer has been trained to hold off buying tickets until the last minute.
ROSE: The trouble is, if everyone waits until the last minute, there aren't enough advance ticket sales, and the show gets canceled. That's a lesson many artists, promoters and fans may learn the hard way before the summer is over.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.