With all the news surrounding the impending potential merger between promotion giant Live Nation and ticket colossus Ticketmaster, including a recent Congressional hearing, we, the consumers, as well as artists and venues, have been given a chance to rethink our priorities as far as just how much we’re willing to put up with to get our hands on tickets. Ticketmaster’s dubious practices aside, the merger would effectively create a gigantic monopoly that would be nearly unavoidable for those looking to score tickets to some of their favorite acts. Battle lines have been drawn, with some artists offering their support while others go on the offensive. So where does this leave consumers? Is there any choice but to suck it up and deal with whatever happens? After all, it’s not like we’re going to stop going to concerts.
Enter Brown Paper Tickets (BPT), a ticketing agency that boasts not only the lowest convenience rates for ticket buyers and sellers alike, but one with a strong philanthropic outlook, and an underlying philosophy that just maybe there’s more to this business than the bottom line. CEO Steve Butcher was kind enough to shed some light on the current situation with Ticketmaster and Live Nation, as well as what exactly sets BPT apart from the other guys.
“The weirdest thing about BPT,” Butcher says, “is probably the business model we use. Not-Just-For-Profit allows us to make some crazy decisions and feel good about them. For example, it isn’t in our best interest to make all the basic services for producers free, but it means we get to figure out how to be efficient enough to make money.”
He goes on to explain that the NJFP model certainly isn’t the quickest way to massive profits, but that, ultimately, it’s the customer that matters: “It really doesn’t make fiscal sense to be so much cheaper than everyone else – we could be charging much more and still be the cheapest. Even taking advertising on the site! We don’t want our customers bothered with them while they shop – so we forego the income. It’s much more fun this way.”
One benefit of BPT’s particular business model is that it allows them to provide their services not just for the large names and venues, but smaller ones, as well. There is an amazing amount of flexibility that NJFP affords the company, considering how relatively low a large profit margin is on the company’s priorities.
“Anything and everything,” Butcher explains regarding the types of artists and venues that have gone with BPT in the past. “We’ve ticketed every kind of music, theatre, movie, convention, festival, party. Sizes range from conversation dinners for 8 to conventions of 100,000 registrants.” Because all the services someone would need to professionally ticket their event are free, BPT ends up with all sorts of clientele, from first-grade field trip registrations to high school plays; from small clubs to weeks-long film festivals.
“It can be easy to forget about the depth of talent in the world when all you see on major media are those that have the marketing budget to advertise on that level,” says Butcher, and the acts his company has associated with in the past speaks to this point. BPT has handled ticketing for classics like Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton, as well as smaller local acts, like Maine-based “thirteen-piece steam engine of funk” Murder of Crows. They’ve ticketed for comedians, cabaret/circus shows, film festivals, you name it.
Lately, BPT has started to get into bigger venues and in the running for larger tours. Now that the company has additional marketing potential in Canada and the UK, they are beginning to look increasingly more appealing to a larger number of producers. Given the problems the other ticketing companies are having, opportunity may not be far on the horizon for BPT.
This is all well and good, but what does this mean for the consumer himself, and the money he will be spending? Well, BPT offers refuge for those burnt by the arguably exorbitant “convenience” fees that always end up jacking a ticket price up more than had been anticipated.
“The biggest advantage to ticket buyers is we’re not charging as much as we could charge. Frankly, once a ticket buyer decides they want to attend an event, they’re pretty much forced to buy from the chosen ticket seller. It follows that the service fees are limited only by the imagination. Our Not Just For Profit way of doing things asks; what’s the fair price for having a website or an operator take your order, print out a ticket, put it in an envelope and ship it off? We think 99 cents and 2.5% should cover it.”
There is something to be said about the fact that we have learned to live with these convenience charges for so long, though. Will BPT be able to make their cheaper methods known enough to continue an increase in business? “I guess it might be tough to convince people they get the same or better service for 50-90% less,” Butcher speculates. Continuing, “I’m also guessing, and hoping, there are enough people out there willing to experiment with us. NJFP also means we’re not selling ticket buyer’s names and buying habits,” Butcher explains, offering peace of mind that a BPT customer will not find themself barraged with emails in the future. Additionally, the company makes its pricing known clearly right off the bat: “We charge the same fee whether you order a physical ticket or will call, and whether you order the ticket online, over the phone, or in a retail outlet. NJFP really guides all of our decisions – in some ways it disappears into our way of operating.”
Regarding the elephant in the room, Butcher is fairly confident that the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger wouldn’t hurt Brown Paper Tickets’ business as much as you would first think: “With or without the merger, they can’t touch most of our business. They just aren’t efficient enough to ticket small events. Larger events are actually easier to make money at – we’ve grown up on the smallest events. And since we’re bringing our efficiency to the broader market, there’s a good chance we’ll end up with more than a couple of customers from their roster.”
As far as the legality of the whole thing is concerned, Butcher thinks that “the everyday practices of a company are more important than potential mergers. If these two companies were thought of as great and gracious, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion.”
This does certainly seem to be the case. To put Live Nation and Ticketmaster together would all but ensure that many larger venues around the country were promoted through Live Nation, who in turn would direct all ticket sales to their partner. Given the large number of artists and venues that use one or the other, this would effectively allow them to charge whatever they like almost across the board. As we’ve seen, nothing will stop people from going to see their favorite bands, and this can only give more money to those sitting up top.
BPT also stands out through their philanthropy, which goes hand in hand with their customer’s wishes. “We work with all kinds of causes,” Butcher explains. “Sometimes we donate money, sometimes our time. We select four causes from hundreds of charities sent in each month by ticket buyers and producers. Ticket buyers then vote when they buy tickets online and we divide the pool accordingly.”
This isn’t just a case of giving back charity for the sake of looking good. The fundamental philosophy behind BPT’s philanthropy is basic, and frankly makes a lot of sense. “The reasoning is simple – and kind of selfish really; we’re all part of the same community. We want our community to do better – we want people to have their rights honored, we want plants and animals to stick around, and our kids to grow up. Since a company is just another kind of citizen, Brown Paper Tickets has a duty to help out.”
These days, when all we hear about is the doom and gloom of our troubled times, of bigwig CEOs using our money, literally, to send themselves and their friends on unnecessary and expensive trips; in these days of increasingly-red market projections and an apparently endless showcase of rampant and despicable practices by corporations and influential individuals alike, it’s incredibly heartening to see a company whose goals seem to be anything but profit-seeking. Steve Butcher has put together a business with a wonderful human side to it, and it’s nice to know that there are still people out there who can keep things in perspective with sound business practices with the customer constantly in mind and an admirable charitable streak.