Dismemberment Plan put tickets for its reunion shows on sale today and to the surprise of nobody at all, they sold out quickly. But I do think we should view it as at least a little bit surprising that we’re unsurprised by this:
After all, if you’re selling your tickets at a flat rate then a sellout means your tickets were too cheap. Of course leaving some tickets unsold is also inefficient, but it’s less inefficient than leaving customers unserved. Shortages are bad, and can be solved with higher prices. Bands and venues leaving surplus on the table mostly benefits scalpers and is part of how Ticketmaster is able to be so effective at extracting rents. It seems like the optimal strategy in the Internet era is some kind of option. Have an auction window in which everyone who wants to see Dismemberment Plan submits how much money they’re willing to pay. Then you accept the X highest bids, using a lottery if necessary to allocate spots at the low end.
The most plausible account I’ve heard is that the overall experience is better if you have some younger/poorer people in the audience and you’re making sure it’s “real fans” who are super-excited and not just random rich people. I’m not really sure how plausible this is—I think anyone willing to pay a lot of money to go see the Dismemberment Plan is probably a real fan, albeit possibly a real fan who makes a lot of money—but if it’s right then it’s really just an argument for segregated out 10-20% of the ticket pool and allocating it some other way. You could reserve discount tickets and sell them on-site exclusively at the day of the show, so only people with the commitment to wait on line can get them. The worry here would be that the real beneficiaries would be scalpers, but that same worry exists with the current arbitrary rationing scheme.
Nobody wants to be the jerk arguing for higher prices, but it seems to me that said higher prices would enhance consumer welfare. Beyond that, music fans should be eager for bands to find ways to make more money off of touring. The traditional copyright-based method of earning money by selling records doesn’t have a very bright future, but it continues to be the case that people are willing to spend good money to see their favorite bands play live. It would be a better world if the bands were more willing to take all that money instead of giving it away to middlemen.