ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you leave this program with one math problem in your head today, let it be this: 40,000 tickets sold in 30 seconds. How many of them did real concertgoers buy? Yes, we're talking about Justin Bieber concert tickets - tickets for the pop star's two shows at Madison Square Garden sold out in a half minute on Saturday. Even for a squealing, pre-teen fan base trembling with Bieber fever, 40,000 tickets in 30 seconds seems just incredible. So, how did this happen?
We turn now to Gary Bongiovanni who is editor-in-chief of Pollstar. That's a concert industry publication. Welcome to the program.
GARY BONGIOVANNI: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And tell us how did this happen.
BONGIOVANNI: The truth is that 40,000 tickets didn't sell in that first few seconds. A lot of those tickets were already sold in the days leading up to that one public on-sale. There was probably an American Express presale, certainly the Justin Bieber fan club had a presale. And then there are a fair number of tickets that get held back for record company, media and so on.
SIEGEL: Well, is it a tightly held secret or do we have some sense of the 40,000? Do we think most actually were sold before this magical 30-second window?
BONGIOVANNI: It wouldn't surprise if more than half of them were already accounted for before the public on-sale. You also have to remember that the secondary market, the ticket brokers, are actively trying to get as many of those good seats as they can. And they're professionals. That's how they make their living.
SIEGEL: The secondary market is what we used it impolitely refer to just as ticket scalping. That's what we called it.
BONGIOVANNI: Ticket scalping, ticket brokers - yeah. Call it what you want. It's a little more respectable than it used to be. You now have companies like eBay and StubHub and even Ticketmaster has its own secondary markets. In fact, there are artists - I don't think Justin Bieber's necessarily one of them - who actually defer directly some of their inventory of tickets to the secondary market and make some of that profit themselves.
SIEGEL: Now, those people who are just trying to get a shot at, you know, a dozen tickets, let's say, are they - do they have to be technologically savvy to have a chance of getting in there in that very small window?
BONGIOVANNI: I don't know about technologically savvy. They have to be lucky basically. With the Internet, you can have thousands of transactions occurring all at the same time. And that really makes it very difficult for the average fan to get a seat at all at a really high-demand show.
SIEGEL: When ticket brokers see a huge concert tour opening up and tickets coming online for sale, do they gear up their robotic computers? What do they do?
BONGIOVANNI: I don't know that gear is necessarily the right word to use because they have the computers available to them. The question is how many do they really want to try and resell on the secondary market. It's not a science. It's really kind of a voodoo art in terms of ticket demand.
SIEGEL: A pop concert is like an IPO is what you're describing here.
BONGIOVANNI: Yeah. You know, and sometimes you get a Facebook.
SIEGEL: Has anyone tried to see how big the secondary market is? That is, how many tickets are available for Justin Bieber's Madison Square Garden concerts over the next couple of days?
BONGIOVANNI: The question, I guess, is how many times will they be resold? And the truth is that no show ever really sells out because you can almost always get tickets at the last minute.
SIEGEL: As long as there's a guy mumbling out in front the Garden (unintelligible) a ticket, then the show isn't sold out technically.
BONGIOVANNI: Or on Craigslist or any of the more established broker sites. You can always get tickets. It's just a matter of how much are you willing to pay.
SIEGEL: Gary Bongiovanni, thanks a lot for talking with us.
BONGIOVANNI: You're welcome, Robert. Have a good day.
SIEGEL: Mr. Bongiovanni is the editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a publication which covers the concert industry.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYFRIEND")
JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) I'd like to be everything you want. Hey, girl, let me talk to you. If I was your boyfriend, never let you go, keep you on my arm, girl. You'll never be alone. I can be a gentleman, anything you want. If I was your boyfriend, never let you go...
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.