Too Far Taylor

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Taylor Swift has started publicly promoting the release of her 6th studio album, reputation. In the process, she and her team have employed quite a few creative strategies to better sell her brand. Their most interesting development, in my opinion, is TAYLOR SWIFT TIXSM.

Taylor Swift is committed to getting tickets into the hands of fans…NOT scalpers or bots. So she’s collaborating with Ticketmaster #VerifiedFan to create an exclusive program to help YOU get the best access to tickets in North America, in a really fun way.

In recent years, scalpers have increasingly been using computer programs (bots) to sell out tour dates in seconds. They then sell those tickets on secondary markets for multiple times their face-value, profiting on the spread between their purchase and resale prices. Ultimately, the tickets end up in the hands of the fans but not before they have grossly overpaid for them. Obviously, this is an issue from a consumer prospective but it is an even bigger issue for artists and their investors. Sure, there is the ethical issue that scalpers are realizing the majority of the profit on an artist’s performance, but the real issues are multiple layers deeper. For the sake of brevity I won’t take you all the way down the rabbit hole but just think about this: if you didn’t have to pay $500 per ticket to sit in the nosebleeds at an artist’s show, but instead could pay $100 to sit in the lower bowl, would you be more willing to pay $15 for their record? How about $50 for their T-shirt?

10 months ago, Ticketmaster launched its VerifiedFan program. I used it to get tickets to an Ed Sheeran show in July. It works…for now. Essentially, Ticketmaster uses the personal information you provide when registering for your account to verify that you are a human and not a bot. It doesn’t stop a human scalper from signing up, getting VerifiedFan tickets and then flipping them on the secondary market. Fortunately for fans, this is a lot more work to get a lot fewer tickets if you are a scalper accustomed to purchasing tens or hundreds of tickets through a bot.

The innovative aspect of Taylor Swift Tix is the development of a way to ensure that the most enthusiastic fans receive priority tickets. That is an idea that I can get behind. Unfortunately, Taylor and her team got greedy in the execution.

After your registration is complete, you’ll officially join the line and unlock access to the Taylor Swift Tix portal. The portal will serve as your main destination to participate in boost activities. Activity boosts will come in all shapes and sizes. Watch the latest music video, purchase the album, post photos and engage on social media. Check the Taylor Swift Tix portal for the newest boosts and activities you can do everyday. When you participate, you may boost your opportunity to unlock ticket access in your selected city. Your standing may change as more fans join and participate in activities. You can participate in boost activities at the start of registration and continue until we lock the line on Nov 28.

If you register for Taylor Swift Tix (which I did, purely for research purposes of course…) you’ll notice that “boosts” are ranked based on their impact to your place in line for tickets:

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The greed lies in the “High” row. Boosts from album pre-orders are arbitrarily limited to 13 – Taylor’s birthdate and favourite number – and there are NO LIMITS on boosts for merchandise or album purchases. Since there are no monetary limits on the most impactful boosts, there exists a scenario where fans engage in an vicious cycle of spending until the November 28th deadline. Remember, there is no defined amount of money that a fan can spend to guarantee themselves tickets; that depends on how much money the other fans in their city are spending.

To make matters worse, tour dates, ticket sale dates, ticket costs and ticket limits have not yet been announced. Until they are, fans are spending an unbound amount of money to put themselves at the front of the line for an unknown number of tickets, at an unknown cost to be purchased at an unknown date for a show sometime in the future. What!?

In the existing system it is possible that a family could spend $400 on boost activities thinking that they will receive 4 tickets, each valued at $200. That equates to a cost of $300 per ticket. Taylor and her team could then set a ticket limit of 2 per account and announce that the cheapest ticket is $400. Now, 2 of the family members don’t have tickets and the remaining 2 tickets are valued at $600. In an even crueler world, they are going to be on vacation the day of the show. Now, they either sink the $400 they spent on boost activities or they purchase the tickets and sell them to friends or on the secondary market for at least $600 each to break-even. Neither of those options stop someone from reselling for a profit or ensure whoever gets the tickets is a fan.

The point is, this program is flawed. The good news is that it isn’t too late to improve it. Here’s what I would do:

  1. Tour dates, ticket sale dates, ticket costs and ticket limits need to be released.
  2. A monetary limit on merchandise boosts and a quantity limit on album boosts, regardless of type, need to be applied. I estimate appropriate limits to be 1 album purchase and around $100 in merchandise per ticket.
  3. A Taylor Swift Tix resale portal should be set up for verified fans. If a verified fan needs to sell their tickets, they can sell to another verified fan for face-value.
  4. Returns/refunds should be made available to those who would like to change how much they have already spent on boost activities given the new information.

This is a lot of work and expense. As a result, I don’t expect any of these changes to be implemented for the North American tour. However, if they are made for the world tour, which I am assuming will be announced shortly, we would have a much more equitable system and Taylor would still realize more revenue from each fan than she has in the past.

I give Taylor and her team a lot of credit for a solid idea and a lot of good work building out the infrastructure for Taylor Swift Tix. Unfortunately, it only takes a few bad decisions to derail a lot of good work.

Aside: I have already written too much for this week but it is curious that streaming was omitted as a boost activity; think about why that might be. Maybe I’ll publish my thoughts in a future post…