Secondary ticketing, policy and cultural implications..briefly!

Two primary elements characterize the live music industry nowadays: its new economic centrality and a sharp shift in concert ticket price (Holt). Another element has to be added to the discussion, that is the Internet, “where the round-the-clock availability of tickets has had profound implications” (Cloonan). In this post I will highlight a peculiar aspect of ticketing: the raise of the online secondary market, its policy implications and the cultural aspects that relate to the growth of the live music industry. The internet has facilitated the boom of the secondary ticket market, which may account for as much as 30 per cent (Ballantine). Secondary ticketing is functional to customers who being no longer able to attend an event need to resell their ticket to someone else, but secondary market websites became rapidly the ideal virtual place where touts could re-sell tickets at heavily increased prices, Recently for instance a Rolling Stones’ ticket reached 12,500£ (Luck) and a report suggest that the average value of this market for the top 100 gigs was 117% (Robinson). Moreover, and this is the biggest issue, the merge between TicketMaster and Live Nation in 2009 after that TicketMaster bought two significant secondary ticketing agencies (Get Me In! And TicketsNow) fulfils “the alleged possibility that promoters make illicit profits by selling direct to the secondary market, could become a routine business practice” (Cloonan). This monopoly is also characterized by a sly irony since some organizations, who were born to defend fans rights, are also managed by TicketMaster or StubHub, making the situation murky. (White).

Cloonan, in a rare attempt to give a historic representation of live music industry, underlines as illegal practices have always been a relevant part of the business and how the secondary ticketing practice has now moved from the streets to the web. What emerges to a policy level is the total governments casualness in tackling the problem despite the various proposals put in place, and reveals that popular music is still considered much economically rather than culturally (Cloonan) since no policy has been adopted to stop this injury against the fans’ rights.

From a cultural perspective Frith (2007) notes that popular music sociologists and historians have documented how the domestication of the music experience would have led to the extinction of the live performance ( Frith, 1987; Sanjek and Sanjek). This position has been reversed by the evidence of the live industry boom in the digital age, which “paradoxically has only served to underline [its] continued cultural—and therefore economic— importance”(Frith, 2007). Furthermore, in answering to what is the live performance function for society, he analyzes three secondary kinds of performance and argues that the Western music experience has been so much individualized, both for cultural and technological reasons, that led to a lonely aesthetic shaped by the need to share our tastes.

Holt highlights that the general growth of the live music industry brings two questions: “Are digital media practices boosting interest in live music? Why is the market value of live music increasing at a time when media penetrate social life more than ever?” These arguments indicate a shift in the relevance played by the live performance within the metatext which influences our music meaning and Holt agrees with Frith arguing that “media penetration sustains the desire for bodily co-presence” in a world where entertainment isn’t really separate from the everyday life, but where the public events are still marked moments and create an important border between media representation and the live event.

Finally, it’s useful to notice that the history of the live music is highly under-researched probably because of the dominance of the record industry during the last decades. All the authors mentioned above have clearly pointed out this academic lack and the need for enriching popular music history to better understand the further evolutions of the live industry. They also have highlighted a relevant disruption moment: the decline of the record industry which corresponds to the beginning of the digital age.


Holt, F. (2010), The economy of live music in the digital age, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 13: 243-261;

Cloonan, M. (2011): Researching live music: some thoughts on policy implications, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 17:4, 405-420

Ballantine, R. (2007) ‘Touting for Business’, IQ12: 13.

Luck, A. (2013) Sold out: Are Rihanna, Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber fans being ripped off by so-called secondary ticket websites? , Mail Online available here:

Robinson, J. (2008) Ticket touting beats stock market every times. Observer, 11 May, business section, 1.

White, R. (2012) The secondary ticket market (Or: the continuing saga of the Bruce Springsteen tickets that weren’t) The Oregonian, Available here:

Frith, S. (2007) ‘Live Music Matters’, Scottish Music Review 1:1, 1-17;

Frith, 1981: S. Frith, ‘The making of the British record industry, 1920-1964’, J. Curran et al ed.: Impacts and Influ-ences. Essays on Media Power in the Twentieth Century(London: Methuen), pp.278-290.

Sanjek and Sanjek, 1991: R. Sanjek and D. Sanjek, American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century(New York: Oxford University Press).


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