If you want a ticket for an event, such as a match or a concert, but the tickets are sold out, what do you do? Many will go to an agency operating in the ‘secondary market’. A secondary market is where items originally purchased new, such as tickets, company shares, cars or antiques, are put up for sale at a price that the market will bear.
The equilibrium price in a secondary market is where supply equals demand and the actual price will approximate to this equilibrium. In the case of tickets, this equilibrium price can be much higher than the original price sold by the venue or its agents. The reason is that the original price is below the equilibrium.
This is illustrated in the figure (click here for a PowerPoint). Assume that the total supply of tickets is Qs. Assume also that the official box office price is Pbo and that demand is given by the demand curve D. At the box office price demand exceeds supply by Qd – Qs. There is thus a shortage, with many fans unable to obtain a ticket at the official price. Many of you will be familiar with having to be as quick as possible to get hold of tickets where demand considerably outstrips supply. Events such as Glastonbury sell out within seconds of coming on sale.
If you buy a ticket and then find out you cannot go to the event, you can sell the ticket on the secondary market through an online site or agency. Such agencies could be seen as providing a useful service as it means that otherwise empty seats will be filled. But if the equilibrium price is well above the original ticket price, there is the potential for huge gain by the agencies, who may pay the seller considerably less than the agency then sells the ticket to someone else.
What is more, the difference between the original price and the equilibrium price in the secondary market makes ticket touting, or ticket ‘scalping’, highly profitable. This is where people buy tickets with no intention of using them themselves but in order to sell them at much higher prices on the secondary market. Such ticket touting has been illegal for football matches since 1994 and was illegal for the 2012 London Olympics, but it is legal for plays, concerts, festivals and other events.
Ticket touts are often highly organised in obtaining tickets at official prices by buying early and using multiple credit cards and multiple identities to avoid systems that restrict the number of tickets issued to a card. They often use internet bots to mass purchase tickets the moment they go on sale.
Those in favour of ticket touting argue that the high price in the secondary market is just a reflection of demand and supply (see the IEA article below). Ticket touting allows tickets to be directed to people who value them most and will get the greatest benefit from it. What is more, banning ticket touting, so the argument goes, would simply drive it underground.
Those against argue on grounds of equity. Ticket prices set below the equilibrium are designed to give greater equality of access to fans. Rationing on a first-come first-served system, either on the internet or by a queue, is seen to be fairer than one by ability/willingness to pay. A poor person may be just as keen to go to an event as a rich person and gain just as much enjoyment from it, but cannot afford the high equilibrium price. What is more, non of the profit from the higher prices reaches the event organisers or the artists or players. Yet the mark-up and hence profit made by ticket touts can be massive, as the first Observer article below shows.
Various measures are being tried to prevent ticket touting. One is the use of paperless tickets, with the number of tickets limited per person and with people having to show their ticket on their phones along with ID at the door or gate. If a person cannot attend, then the solution is a system where they can give the ticket back to the box office (perhaps electronically) which will re-sell it for them at the official price.
A government-backed investigation, the Waterson review reported in May 2016 and recommended that touts should be licensed and that there should be harsher penalties for firms that flout consumer rights law as applying to ticket sales. Whether this would be sufficient to bring secondary market prices down significantly, remains to be seen. In the meantime, organisers do seem to be trying to find ways of beating the touts through smarter means of selling.
MP Nigel Adams calls for secondary ticket marketing to be reformed Music Week, James Hanley (14/9/16)
Iron Maiden go to war with ticket touts BBC News, Mark Savage (22/9/16)
The new age of the ticket tout BBC World Tonight, Andrew Hosken (25/5/16)
Government urged to help music industry tackle ticket touts The Guardian, Rob Davies (13/9/16)
Ticket touts face licensing threat The Guardian, Rupert Jones (26/5/16)
How the ticket touts get away with bleeding fans dry The Observer, Rob Davies and Rupert Jones (15/5/16)
What sorcery is this? A £140 ticket for new Harry Potter play now costs £8,327 The Observer, Rob Davies and Laurie Chen (14/8/16)
Ticket touts made $3m from the last Mumford & Sons tour. $0 went back to the music industry. Music Business Woldwide, Adam Tudhope (6/9/16)
This is tout of order – join the Daily Mirror campaign to beat rip-off ticket resales Daily Mirror, Nada Farhoud (19/9/16)
Ticket touts: A muggle’s game The Economist (20/8/16)
Can We Fight Back Against The Robot Touts Ruining Live Music? Huffington Post, Andy Webb (6/9/16)
In defence of ticket touts Institute of Economic Affairs, Steve Davies (25/2/15)
Consumer protection measures applying to ticket resale: Waterson review Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Culture, Media & Sport 26/5/16)
#Toutsout MMF & FanFair Alliance September 2016
- Why can ticket touts sell tickets above the equilibrium price shown in the diagram?
- In what ways could ticket touts be said to be distorting the market?
- How do ticket touts reduce consumer surplus? Could they reduce it to zero?
- Why may allowing ticket touting to take place result in empty seats at concerts or other events?
- Would it be a good idea for event organisers to charge higher prices for popular events than they do at present, but still below the equilibrium
- How does the price elasticity of demand influence the mark-up that ticket touts can make? Illustrate this on a diagram similar to the one above.
- Is it in ticket touts’ interests to adjust prices as an event draws closer, just as budget airlines adjust seat prices as the plane fills up? Could organisers sell tickets in the primary market in this way with prices rising as the event fills up?
- Discuss the various ways in which the secondary ticket market could be reformed? To what extent do these involve reforms in the primary ticket market?
The model of demand and supply is one of the first diagrams that any student of Economics will see and it’s a very important model. We can apply it to a multitude of markets and understand how market prices for products and services are determined. One such market is that of wine, where a recent report suggests that wine is in short supply. Bad news for everyone!
The price of wine is set by the interact of demand and supply. As with any market, numerous factors will affect how much wine is demanded at any price. Since 1996, global consumption of wine has been on the increase: for many, wine is a luxury good and thus as income rises, so does consumption. With the emergence of markets, such as China and subsequent income growth, consumption has risen. Furthermore, tastes have changed such that wine is becoming an increasingly desirable drink. So, this has all led to the demand curve shifting to the right.
However, at the same time, the supply of wine has been falling, largely the result of ‘ongoing vine pull and poor weather’ across Europe. European production has fallen by around 10% over the past year and although production in other countries has been rising, overall production is still not sufficient to match the growth in demand.
So, what’s the result of this high growth in demand combined with the decline in supply? A shortage of wine. A report by analysts at Morgan Stanley suggests that the global wine shortage was some 300m cases in 2012. But, more importantly what is the effect of this shortage? When demand for a product exceeds the supply, the market mechanism will push up the price. As stocks of wine continue to be depleted and consumption of wine keeps rising, the only outcome is a rise in the price of a bottle and a crate of wine.
Concerns are also being raised about the future of prices of some of our other favourite luxury products, such as chocolate, goats cheese and olives. In each case, it’s all about demand and supply and how these curves interact with each other. The following articles consider the prices of some of these products.
Wine shortage: the top five wines to drink – before they run out The Telegraph, Susy Atkins (30/10/13)
World faces global wine shortage – report BBC News (30/10/13)
Luxury food shortage scares – should we believe the warnings? The Guardian, Emine Saner (5/11/13)
The global wine ‘shortage’ Napa Valley, Dan Berger (8/11/13)
Global Shortage of wine beckons Independent, Felicitiy Morse (30/10/13)
The global wine shortage is about to get worse (if you like Bordeaux) TIME World, David Stout (6/11/13)
Have no fears about a world wine shortage – the glass is still half fulll The Telegraph, Victoria Moore (31/10/13)
Drink it while you can, as study points to looming wine shortage Associated Press (31/10/13)
Don’t waste a drop! Wine prices to rise as demand grows Mail Online, Amie Keeley (31/10/13)
- Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate how the market price for wine (or any other product) is determined.
- Why does the demand curve for wine slope downwards and the supply curve of wine slope upwards?
- Which factors will affect (a) the demand and (b) the supply of wine?
- One the diagram you drew in question, illustrate a shortage of wine. How will the price mechanism work to restore equilibrium?
- Why does the Morgan Stanley report suggest that a wine shortage might emerge?
- What suggestions are there that there is no wine shortage?
Demand and supply analysis can be applied to a multitude of markets. When there is a disequilibrium in a market, prices will tend to adjust to eliminate any shortage or surplus. But, what of road space? There is a demand and a supply of road space and when there are too many cars for the road space available, congestion is the consequence.
When an additional car enters the road network, there is a cost and a benefit to the driver. However, there are not only costs/benefits to the driver, but there are also costs/benefits to other road-users. When one car drives on the M25 it adds to the number of cars on the road. Once we reach the point where there are too many cars given the road space and thus the flow of cars per minute begins to fall, congestion starts to build up. There is a negative externality involved here – the actions of one person (the driver) impose an additional cost on other drivers (the congestion). It takes every other road user a little bit of extra time to get from A to B the more cars there are on the road.
Congestion is a problem in many parts of the country and various solutions have been suggested. Policies to reduce demand will help the congestion problem by reducing the number of cars on the road. Numerous strategies have been tried, such as restrictions on parking; improvements in public transport; an integrated transport policy; higher parking charges; work place parking levies; higher taxes on petrol, higher car taxes and congestion charging schemes.
Alternatively, building more roads will directly increase the supply of road space, but this can (and has) simply led to more cars using the additional road space and thus the problem of congestion remains. Bus/taxi lanes are in use across the country and allow the users of public transport to benefit from faster journey times, thus encouraging them to forgo their cars and use buses. However, does this add to the congestion for other people?
In Liverpool, a nine month trial is taking place, where bus lanes will be removed to find out if they have a positive effect on reducing congestion. By increasing the amount of road space available to all road users, Liverpool City Council will be able to see if directly increasing the supply of road space will help to meet the existing demand. The possibility, however, is that by increasing the supply of road space, more individuals will choose to use their cars, thus fuelling demand. Many argue that this trial is a step backwards and will add to congestion, reduce the appeal of travelling by bus and impose further costs on the environment. The following articles consider the debate surrounding congestion.
Liverpool City Council will scrap bus lanes for nine months BBC News (27/9/13)
Liverpool bus lanes plan criticised by government Liverpool Daily Post (9/10/13)
Calls for single 30% income tax rate BBC News (21/5/12)
Liverpool scraps bus lanes in trial BBC News (including video) (21/10/13)
Government warning over Liverpool council plans to axe bus lanes in the city Liverpool Echo (9/10/13)
- Explain why congestion is a negative externality. What other externalities exist with regard to car usage?
- Using a diagram, show the point at which congestion occurs and explain why there is a difference between the marginal private and marginal social cost.
- What will happen to the difference between the marginal private and social cost curves before and after congestion sets in?
- Think about the different solutions to the problem of congestion. In each case, explain whether it is a demand-side or supply-side solution and how it will aim to combat congestion. You should also consider whether it is a short or long term solution and how feasible it actually is.
- How will the abolition of bus lanes aim to reduce congestion?
- There are supporters for bus lanes and supporters for the abolition of them. Justify the arguments on each side of the debate. You should consider the wider implications as well as the impact on congestion.
46p – that buys you a First Class stamp. However, the price will now rise to 60p and the price of a Second Class stamp will increase to 50p from 36p, as Ofcom lifts some price caps. These significant price rises have seen shortages of stamps emerging across the country. As people anticipate the price rise, individuals and businesses are buying up stamps while they remain relatively cheap.
The problem is that this has started to result in a stamp shortage, so much so that the Royal Mail has now begun rationing retailers’ supply of stamps, capping each retailers’ supply this month to 20% of its annual allocation. A Royal Mail spokesman said:
“We are more than happy for retailers to receive the normal commercial return they obtain on stamps and no more than that … That is why we have put in place a prudent allocation policy to safeguard Royal Mail’s revenues and ensure there are more than enough stamps for people to buy both now and in the future.”
With postage volumes falling, as individuals turn to other methods of communication, Royal Mail says that this price rise is essential to keep this universal service going. Revenues have been low and the Royal Mail has been loss-making for some time.
However, while the price rise may help the Royal Mail, many businesses may suffer in its place. One optician, who sends out approximately 5,000 reminders to patients each year intends to bulk-buy 10,000 stamps in the hopes of saving some £1,400 when prices of stamps rise. An IT worker bought 20 books of 12 first-class stamps and said ‘If I could afford it, I would buy a lot more’. Many are unhappy at the ‘shameless profiteering at the public’s expense’, but whatever your opinion about the price rise, it does make for an interesting case of demand and supply. The following articles consider this stamp shortage.
Man’s 10,000 stamp panic: stampede for stamps leaves a 1st class mess as Royal Mail introduces rationing ahead of 30% price rise Mail Online, Colin Fernandez and John Stevens (15/4/12)
Stamps rationed by Royal Mail in run up to price rise (including video) BBC News (13/4/12)
Stamp rationing could hit pensioners Telegraph, James Hall (14/3/12)
Stamp sales limited ahead of price hike Sky News (13/4/12)
How stamp collecting came unstuck Guardian, Hunter Davies (13/4/12)
Royal Mail limits supply of stamps ahead of price rise Telegraph, James Hall and Andrew Hough (12/4/12)
’Profiteering’ Royal Mail limits supply of stamps before price rise Guardian, David Batty (13/4/12)
Royal Mail’s stamp price rises come into force BBC News (30/4/12)
How businesses will be affected by Royal Mail’s changing prices BBC News, Catherine Burns (28/4/12)
- If people expect prices to rise, what will happen to the demand curve? Illustrate this idea on a demand and supply diagram?
- If suppliers anticipate a price rise, what would their best strategy be?
- On a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the shortage of stamps that has emerged. If left to the free market, what should happen to the price of stamps?
- Why could pensioners and those in rural areas be the most adversely affected by this shortage and price rise?
- Why could ‘children and new collectors’ be priced out of the market?
- Why will small businesses be affected by this price hike? How could their customers be affected?
Last year, we felt the cost of the cold weather and whilst we haven’t seen such low temperatures this year, gas shortages are also emerging. Across Eastern Europe, temperatures have fallen well below -30ºC and so demand for gas has unsurprisingly increased.
Thanks to these low temperatures, Russian gas supplies are running low and several countries have seen their deliveries of gas fall. However, the Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom has said that supplies have not been cut and that it has been exporting more gas during these cold times. The blame, according to Alexander Medvedev (the Deputy CEO of Gazprom), lies with the Ukraine taking gas at a pace significantly above contracted levels. The following articles consider this issue.
Russia, Ukraine argue over gas as EU reports shortage Reuters (2/2/12)
Freezing Europe hit by Russian gas shortage BBC News (4/2/12)
Gazprom says ‘Perplexed’ by EU supply drop as Ukraine takes gas Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Anna Shiryaevskaya (3/2/12)
Gazprom cuts gas supplies amid cold snap Financial Times, Guy Chazan (3/2/12)
Gazprom ‘unable to pump extra gas to Europe’ Associated Press (4/2/12)
- Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate what we would expect to see with a gas shortage.
- What has been the cause of this current gas shortage? Use a diagram to illustrate the causes.
- What would you expect to happen to prices following this gas shortage?
- Gazprom is said to be a monopoly: what are the characteristics of a monopoly?
- As there are other gas suppliers, how can Gazprom be said to be a monopolist?