Two weeks ago, a large population of disenfranchised Tragically Hip fans raged on the web about their inability to buy tickets for the bands final tour due to lighting fast sell outs. The blame for lack of tickets quickly pointed to ticket scalpers because as tickets were not available on the primary market, they were freely available for significantly higher prices on Stub Hub and Ticketnetwork affiliated websites, among many others. This is not the first time there has been wide spread outrage followed by promises for new legislation. Adele, Bruce Springsteen, and Miley Cyrus fans have been down this road before, too. This time the blame was squarely pinned on ticket bots. That is, technology that enables ticket resellers to use software that emulates human ticket buying behavior at a high rate of speed, fooling ticketing websites into selling many, many valued tickets at a very high rate of speed. This week, and Op Ed in the New York Times followed the same ‘bots are bad’ talking points with some specific focus on Broadway tickets and discussion about criminalizing the practice in New York State.
While I do not advocate for the use of bots in this context or like that I can’t buy great tickets for the shows I want to see because bots are beating my human hands to the click, I am not blaming scalpers; I am blaming Ticketmaster, Live Nation and every other ticketing platform out there that is unwilling to keep current on what everyone is ecommerce has already figured out. That is, bots and scraping are a fact of life in all aspects of ecommerce. The way to beat bots is not by inconveniencing consumers with outdated captcha, but to leverage technology that can act as a better gate keeper.
For example, I have several times now used Ticketmaster’s website and iPhone app to seek out tickets for shows I want to see. It must be that the developers of the app have not used it because every time you want to search for a seat, you are asked to click on three pictures that have to do with flowers, puppies, or whatever. Today it was store fronts.
Doing this on a mobile device is painstaking and they make you do it every time you look for a new set of tickets. Meanwhile the bots get around capcha in a couple seconds.
And so, back to the bots. Bots are everywhere, and many of them serve us well. For example, the google bot that makes the web easier to navigate. But what can be done about bad bots without inconveniencing consumers? There are actually businesses that specialize in bot regulation, the one I know is Distil Networks. In the process of writing this piece I came across a pretty ironic bit of information; StubHub uses Distil Networks to protect their ticket selling platform, which explains why its so easy to search and purchase tickets on their website. Perhaps bots would not be such a big problem if primary market ticket sellers checked out what the competition is doing?