A Brown Paper Ticket to Ride? And Should You Care?


Not being a producer — but having produced theater during a past life — sometimes I like to read and then not comment on all the blog posts about event ticketing and pricing. From my lay viewpoint, I sense that ticketing software is plentiful, and that everyone has a different view on dynamic pricing and what impels a consumer to shell out bucks for ducats. Marketing folks know a lot more about this than I do, though I sense that, with all due respect to them, it’s all not a matter of science but well-educated guesswork.

What I can’t remember is coming across very many press releases for ticketing services that made me want to blog about them. One concern is simply giving the impression of advertising. By ticketing service, let me add, I don’t necessarily mean social-betterment endeavors like Givenik.com, which is about charitable giving, or Audience Rewards, which leverages the same points-for-effort system that airlines and credit cards use to nudge consumers into consuming.

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Or perhaps my reluctance to write about ticketing services is simply the fact that I’m not a producer. All I know is that I haven’t paid terribly much attention to the subject until now.

That is, until the other day, when a press release came across the transom about Brown Paper Tickets.

Yes, I know full well the above sentence reads like some kind of endorsement. However, I’ve never had any dialogue, professional or personal, with anyone tied to the company and, as a critic who has received complimentary tickets to events for the better part of 20 years, I am 99 percent certain that I’ve never actually bought a ticket using the service. (I didn’t know the company was headquartered in Seattle until I read the press release, either.) Rather, this post is fully unsolicited and based solely on my impressions of what I read. As noted in the top graph of this post, there are hordes of event producers out there who know much more intimately the vagaries and challenges of ticketing than I do. As I think about this, I’d love to know which services they like best and why.

Perhaps it was the headline of the press release — “Brown Paper Tickets Leads ‘Ticketing for the People’ Movement with Release of New Services” — that piqued my interest. Sure, the headline is pure PR schmaltz, but it’s unbridled allusion to the egalitarian spirit is pretty unusual in a profit-making business, isn’t it? Here’s some of the (redacted) copy:

…the movement to democratize the ticketing industry and offer customers a rational and transparent fee structure.

…automate last-minute ticket discounts, post events to Facebook with one click, and sell virtually anywhere around the globe through a wide variety of payment and currency options. All new services are offered free-of-charge to event producers, in addition to an already extensive choice of ticketing service options, including 24/7 call centers staffed by real people and customizable physical tickets and seating charts.

…With the Transfer-to-a-Friend feature, concert and event goers can send tickets to friends via smart phone. No more waiting outside venues for stragglers to show up, or leaving complicated instructions at will-call. The website also offers customers a built-in resale network to sell purchased tickets right from the main event page.

…find tickets to just about any kind of event-from roller derby bouts to business association galas, comedy clubs to charity fund-raisers, cooking classes to rock concerts.

Someone decided the release should include some real rah-rah copy, which I won’t publish here and which I have to regard with a skeptical eye. Still, this sentence struck me as out-and-out audacious:

Known as a champion of the people, Brown Paper Tickets strives to change the world, one ticket at a time.

I mean, anyone can proclaim themselves champions of the people. Indeed, I’d be more inclined to honor the phrase if, for example, it was a doctor hawking a revolutionary new vaccine. Ticket services won’t cure the world’s ills. But a good ticketing service can undoubtedly make life much, much easier for producers, especially nonprofit producers that are vigilant about every penny.

What I’d like to know is whether there exists a kind of genuinely objective, reputable, opt-in user guide that evaluates ticket services in-depth. How does Brown Paper Tickets stack up? I’d love to read, if not comment, a wider discussion.

  • I’ve never worked with Brown Paper Tickets as a producer, but I’ve bought from them several times. I can certainly say that they’re focused on a good customer experience–the website is clear and easy to navigate, and any fees are obvious from the start. As for the world changing, I know that they do donate a portion of the fees to charity, and the customer can choose the category (animal rights, human rights, etc). The rhetoric’s a little inflated, maybe, but it seems to be legit.

  • I, too, would love to participate in a wider comparative discussion. I am a producer and know that my patrons would like more options, but I must consider cost and convenience from both the patron and producer perspective. My small theatre is changing the world, one compelling story at a time. But our human and financial resources are limited. If Brown Paper Tickets could really help my organization change the world, one ticket at a time, I’d be all for it.

  • JimD

    I’ve got a couple good friends on the inside of BPT and what I hear from them is: Don’t buy into the Brown Paper Tickets hype. They may sell a good product on the surface, but they actually can make things way harder for event producers than they ever need to be. Not to mention they only recently started shelling out the big bucks for marketing — by my estimates they must be spending a good $300,000 a year if not more just on marketing their site. Meanwhile they just went for a complete site revision which actually took away a bunch of features that long-time producers have loved. BPT’s best strength was its simplicity and its customer service, but now its phone lines are swamped, its representatives are angry towards clients, and in general it seems like the morale of the company has suffered, even as they’ve begun to promote their company more heavily.

    The rhetoric as Zev refers to it is extremely inflated. They are a budget company, good for little else but supporting those with little money to put on events. Which is fine, when I used them, that was me to a t. But I see now they’ve lost sight of that goal, and are trying to get sold to ticketmaster, or whoever will buy them, hence the uptick in this marketing flubub.

    It’s a sham to a large extent. I know they want to get better, but they seem to move backwards as they get more and more business, but less and less emphasis on customer service. All this money poured into hype won’t make it into a good company, but a solid core, supported by their stellar, if inconsistent, programming team, will make it a boon to event producers in the future. Not this stupid PR.

    Just my two cents.