A moral ticket reseller? How can that be? How does that even work as a business model? And what percentage of ticket holders don't actually go to a show? U.K. based Richard Davies, creator of fan-to-fan face-value (or less) reseller Twickets, says five percent.
Appealing to people's conscience, he's seen close to a million tickets (music, sports, theatre, arts) end up in buyers' hands since launching the transactional web site and app three years ago — and now Ed Sheeran, Arctic Monkeys, James Bay are endorsing the platform.
"When an artist supports us, we see that change and we see fans react," Davies told Billboard in Toronto, during Canadian Music Week, there to meet with members of the music industry about Twickets' launch in Canada. "The artist has such a big influence over what their fans do. As soon as they say, 'Go to Twickets,' we see them come and list their tickets with us. They don't go against what the artists want them to do. And that is critical really."
Twickets has been expanding territory by territory — Ireland, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and last October the U.S. — based on the simple hypothesis that fans want another fan to benefit from a ticket sale if they're no longer able to make it.
Billboard spoke with Davies about the concept and expansion.
How do fans find out Twickets even exists? Normally they sell their tickets to fellow fans through their friend network or by going to a fan forum.
Fans find out about us normally through word of mouth and through artist endorsement. We continue with the same strategy we've had since day 1 three years ago when we launched in the UK, and that is to do this very much from the grassroots up. It's a fan focused platform, and it's important that fans engage with us and talk about us and spread the word, rather than us doing this from the top down with some VC funding, trying to buy a share of the market. This is about fans bringing other fans to us. Clearly, what really helps is artist endorsement on top of that. So when you get Ed Sheeran tweeting about us or James Bay making a video about us, which he has done recently, then that helps enormously. But really we have to exist for the fan first and foremost. That's how we build our growth.
What made you start it?
Frustration really, because I couldn't get a ticket for a show in London, I found that all the tickets we're on the secondary market and way over face value. It was for Lykke Li, who was playing at the Roundhouse. I searched Twitter and found a lady who was not able to make the show because she was ill, tweeted out to her own network that she had a ticket available if anyone wanted it, or a few tickets rather, so I cheekily approached her and said, 'Look, I'm not connected to you, but if those tickets are still spare then, I'll buy them,' and she sold them to me.
In terms of a business model, how many people buy tickets for shows and don't go?
Around 5 percent of shows have no-shows.
Because shows and tours are now sold so far in advance?
They change plans. They go off the artist, in some cases.
In Canada, we had a major band that was just launching a national tour get accused of sexual assault and misconduct, and some people decided not to go.
It doesn't happen a lot, but we do see trends change, and we see some people decide they don't really want to see them after all, but the main reason is lifestyle choice or they can't make it because they have something else booked, but they hadn't realized at the time when they bought the tickets, or they got ill or they're friends can't make it, for instance. There are a number of different reasons why someone can't make it.
How do you make money if not from the product?
We do charge a fee. We don't charge sellers to sell a ticket. They list it themselves for free because that's our commitment to them for selling at face value. It means they don't have to inflate the price to recoup the fee they are being charged as well. So we get them to list at face for free and sell for free, but then we charge the buyer between 12 to 15 percent fee, transaction or booking fee, whatever you want to call it, to purchase the tickets, and that fee comes to us. So that's our revenue stream. It's in line with a typical primary ticketing charge that you get from an agency at primary level. And I think that's a reasonable amount to charge. So we compete not just in terms of capping the overall face value, the price of the ticket at face value, with the secondary market, but we also compete on the secondary market on the fee charge as well. We do charge substantially less.
It is a business operating and depending on morals.
Remember that we tested this out before we launched it fully. We did actually put this into the market prior to our official launch three years ago. We trialed it out through Twitter, as a Twitter-only account. Our view by the end of that trial was that there is sufficient interest in what we do and buy into our model that this is worth pushing out now as a transactional business. Our view has very much held the same over the last three years is that most fans do not want to profiteer from the tickets. They do not buy tickets to make money; they buy tickets because they want to go to the show, and if they can't make that show, they're happy to get that money back and ideally to go to another fan. That's what were tapping into, that more moral, ethically-minded mechanism, and it's working.
Some are suspicious that artists are in on the resale.
That's possible, but it's certainly not our experience. We've had a lot of artist support. That's where were coming at it from now is that we've launched as a fan to fan service, and clearly fan is first. What we've found over the last few years is that, increasing in our industry, particularly the artist is really supporting what we do. One, they want to do right by the fan, and two, this is revenue that's being lost. When someone scalps a ticket, that money is being lost from the industry so it's less money spent on future shows, merchandise, streaming, food and beverage at the venue. All those things harm the industry. So there's altruistic reasons for doing this as far as the artists are concerned, but also from an industry perspective, it's important to have an alternative to that market, to save money and see that money reinvested back in. And independent research has shown that fan who has bought from the secondary market is less likely to spend money when they're at the show, or go see the band again on that tour.
Who did that research?
Fanfare did that in the UK. They undertook quite extensive research, but I've seen it in other reports as well
In your meeting in the U.S. and in Toronto during Canadian Music Week, what's been the response, and who is resistant to it?
We've seen no resistance yet, at all.
Who have you been meeting with?
Managers, agents — and promoters. Less so here (Toronto), but in the U.S. we have seen some fairly big promoters, and the support is absolutely there. It comes back to what does the artist want. It's a solution for a certain type of artist and that's the important thing — and everyone would agree to that, that it's not going to be right for everybody, but it is right for a certain type of artist — and increasingly now, it's not just a niche anymore, actually more artists are adopting that method, so we're very confident of the future.
Are you able to talk about Arctic Monkeys and the Ed Sheeran tours?
With Arctic Monkeys, obviously the dates have just gone, and we've seen some really good success there in terms of people re-selling their tickets for the U.S. shows. They did LA, and I believe they did New York as well. The same thing is happening in the U.K. It's just in the very early stages of our development here, so we're not seeing the same volume of tickets traded. Even for the Arctic Monkey shows who supported us vocally to their fans, there's still a degree of having to build trust and transparency and awareness with this audience here, but we definitely saw trading, and some good trading, and in the U.K., we started to get to a whole new level now. We're seeing huge numbers of tickets traded there.
What are huge numbers?
For Ed Sheeran, it's in the tens of thousands of tickets for the U.K. shows alone. So we're getting beyond arena levels of inventory sold.
Launching in Canada, Ed has two shows at Rogers Center which is a stadium.
There's about 35 shows or something in the U.S. The manager and the artist have both come out and said they are adopting Twickets as the platform for this market. We're working on the processes there and how that's going to be promoted as well, but we've got the support of both artist and management in the same way that Arctic Monkeys have done. So we're getting a lot of the acts that we're working with in the U.K. touring the U.S. and coming with us, or we're coming with them rather, to this market.
Do you offer any incentives to the artist?
So it's purely belief in what you're doing?
There is no equity arrangement. We're not giving away equity or paying money back, no nothing. Purely done for the right reasons and that they support what we do.
From your meetings and your research, do you have any suspicions on, besides bots, how this enormous volume of tickets end up on these secondary market sites before they go on sale?
The key to it is that they're often on sale before they go to pre-sale, so you have to believe that most of those tickets are speculative. I think there's a huge number of speculative trading.
Once they do end up on there, after the on-sale, are you face to face in these meetings talking about Twickets, with people that might be the ones releasing them there?
I don't know. Maybe it's just because were not meeting those same people but I don't think that's an issue with the people were talking to. There's very strong buy-in to what we're doing, and unless I'm reading badly, I just don't believe they are participating in it.
Is the bot legislation in the U.K., U.S., or here in Ontario helping?
It helps, absolutely it helps, because it gives us some teeth now, to go back to say to the event organizer, 'Look you can do something about this there's now legislation.' They're not always aware, by the way, of legislation being there to help them, so we help with the educational process, both in terms of the event organizer and the fan, what they can do. The only difficulty I'd say with the legislation is enforcement because sometimes it's just difficulty to get it enforced, and people will rough shot over legislation often, and get away with it. We just have to keep that battle going and ensure that government and other powers that be are actually doing something to act on that legislation.
What else does our industry need to know about Twickets?
What I would normally talk about is that we're not just about music, but that won't be interesting to you. We're 75 percent music; the rest is theatre, sports, the arts and so on. We're ticketed for, in the UK alone 10,000 events last year, so this is a long tail as well, some events were doing tens of thousands of tickets for, but at the other end of the spectrum we might just be doing a few pairs of tickets.