17 January 2011

ShmooCon tickets still selling on Ebay; how would you fix the problem?

Despite the best efforts of the community to shame people for selling ShmooCon tickets, currently 4 of the 6 tickets for sale on Ebay have bids, all in excess of the listed price of $150 and all of them likely to eventually sell for 2x (or more) of that price.  As I wrote last month, artificially holding the price below its market value drives up demand for the tickets.  Someone will eventually buy those tickets.

To date this month, 29 tickets have been listed, and all but eight attracted bids.  When tickets have been sold, the average selling price has been over $400 (in fact, two people paid $500 for tickets).  Of those that did not sell, either their starting bid was in excess of $400, or their reserve was not met (or in the case of the latest two, are still open for bids).

Amidst the litany of complaints, there have been very few suggestions for how to "fix" this problem, and the reason is that it's just not easy to fix.  From my perspective, the two available options are (1) changing the ticket equation, or (2) changing the ticket process.

(1) Changing the ticket equation is primarily an economic solution.  The current situation is one that economists would call "excess demand."  The market's response to excess demand is that suppliers want to supply more products to consumers.  More supply would bring the price closer to equilibrium.  So ShmooCon should sell more tickets.  But they don't want to get any bigger. So the market will seek out other suppliers.  FireTalks, B-Sides, or other alternate venues, constitute that supply.  Those efforts provide some sort of value to the consumer. The problem is that this market solution doesn't really go to the root of the ticket problem.  As a matter of fixing the problem, changing the ticket equation is not an option.

Edited to add: As Roamer suggests below in the comments, raising the price of the tickets to the price equilibrium ($400 or whatever that might be) is indeed another solution.  In my case, this is just another way of adjusting the ticket equation since in removes the artificially low price, which is the root case of the excess demand in the first place.

(2) Changing the ticket process would involve changing the way that tickets are sold.  Currently, the process is more or less random luck.  If you're lucky enough to hit F5 at the right time, you (might) get a ticket.  If not, try again next month (or not at all). When I say changing the way tickets are sold, I don't mean the technical process of selling the tickets, but determining who should be able to buy a ticket (or not), or having some system of preferences.  So in reality, the only ticket process alternatives are random (the way it is now) or preference-based.  I have no idea how one would even begin to design a preference-based ticket sale, and I imagine many people (mostly those who aren't high on the list) would have serious objections to that sort of process.

I don't necessarily like the random process, but I suspect that I wouldn't like a preference-based system, either.  In other words, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.

Andy Ellis wrote: "Someone should give a @shmoocon talk: 'Designing a resilient con registration system.'"  There have been few (if any?) complaints about the actual registration system (once you've already reserved your ticket), so I suspect he means the ticket process (please correct me if I am wrong).  But what does this mean? What would a resilient system look like? How would it differ from what we have now?

If you don't like the current process, how would you solve it? Are there other options in addition to what I've proposed?
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