Thursday, March 31, 2005

Brown Paper Tickets

I talked to Steve Butcher of Brown Paper Tickets last week, and I'm just now getting around to posting some notes about our conversation. First, I want to post a similar review of BPT as I did of others; but we also talked about some philosophical / best-practice issues that I want to pull out in another discussion.... When I can get to it.

BPT does the usual full range of ticket services:
  • Online, secure credit card purchases: this can tie into your merchant account, but they can also just send you a check.
  • Real-time inventory
  • Patron information report for that event (i.e. they do not keep "histories" of patron purchases as a security principle); you can also include simple surveys, which will track individual responses as well as aggregate data at the end of the run
  • Booking stop times

They also offer some of the not-always-offered services:
  • Ticket printing and mailing (incl. in standard service charge)
  • 24-hour ticket purchasing over the phone (also incl. in standard charge)
  • Point-of-sale locations: within-store locations where you can purchase tickets from 2nd-party vendors (often record stores). This piece is still in its infancy, mostly around Seattle
  • You can actually sell tickets on the BPT system from your website (as opposed to ... well, whatever) if you have a consultant work with the integration guidelines provided by BPT. Steve claims a previous theatre did it in a matter of hours and a couple of phone calls, but I tend to rely on Murphy's Law more than on perfect examples
  • If you verify your address (they send a postcard, you enter info online to close the loop) they send out checks within 10 days. Without verification, it may take longer, which is why they really push for address verification. For several-week run events, they will begin sending checks before the run is over.
  • You can order pre-printed "bulk" tickets (for hand delivery or will-call receipts) - i.e. tickets they deliver to you for distribution. This is a separate service than mailing out tickets for specific orders, and costs 10c a ticket.

OK, so there are more details, but let's jump to the chase sooner rather than later. They have a standard pricing fee. Let me modify that just a bit- they have a standard, published, pricing fee:
- 99 cents a ticket
- 2.5% of the ticket price

So if your tickets cost $12, the service fee is $1.29. If your tickets cost $25, the service fee is $1.61. The default is to pass this on to patrons, but you can also absorb the fee or split it with patrons like elsewhere.

Not only is the ticket printing and mailing, as well as phone-based ticket sales "included" in the service fee, so is the design of a seating chart map if you have a fixed venue.

To clarify, patrons won't be able to purchase tickets for specific seats, but for seating "levels" based on price and location. The system will automagically pick "best seats" for you - based not only on what's left, but also on your party size, and will group in a line or in a cluster. And if you don't like it, you can always ask for a different selection.

To be honest, I did not get this level of seat-choosing detail from some of the other vendors, so I add this description here more as grist for the mill in your own research, as opposed to a added-value service that may (or may not) differentiate BPT from other players.
Another nice option they have - again, included in the service charge - is box office software. It's essentially the management console on the BPT site, so you can use it anywhere, on any type of computer that has Internet access. It allows you to not only see the tickets sold through BPT, but manage your seat inventory - even if you sell tickets elsewhere. The theatre owner can create box office users, and track sales per box office user; those sales can happen in the staff office, the box office, or elsewhere (point of sale location? your bedroom?). There is no transaction fee if the theatre sells tickets directly - i.e. purchases made directly through the theatre (e.g. walk-up sales) - because all your doing is entering that info in the system, not processing credit cards over BPT. So not only get a live inventory, but also get appropriate tallies at the end of the night.

Again, this is not specifically different from other services - although some ticket vendors do charge for additional box office management software. There are some details that re fuzzy until you see an actual demo - how much actual inventory management (vs. just inventory reporting) do other services like Acterra and TickeWeb offer - and at what price?

In any case, other niceties BPT offers:
  • During ticket purchase, people can donate to nonprofits listed on BPT sites (there is a waiting list to be one of those nonprofits)
  • An affiliate program: any nonprofit that acts as an online referral to BPT get a nominal payback per ticket purchased or event hosted through that referral

Finally, I had one issue with them that apparently did not strike any sort of nerve when I asked about it. Their website proclaims them a "fair-trade ticketing service." For me, fair trade means something very specific, but that's because I like coffee, and I've adopted the (admittedly narrow) definition that is in current use. What Steve pointed out when he talked about their "fair trade" practices was a) they are "not just for profit" (as defined here), b) they believe in fair labor and client practices, and c) they are committed to transparency - not only for their clients and patrons, but even for their competitors.

So I'll let the "fair trade" tag slide - unless I ever hear that their programmers are not making a livable wage, and then we'll have to stage a protest. [insert smirk here]

More to come on ticket pricing levels, URL jumping when selling tickets, and privacy....

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Links in absentia

Sorry for the long absence; I was away most of last week on a rehearsal retreat, and I'll be darned if I'm going to post to a blog from a cabin in the Sierras (much less on a dial-up line...)

I'm swamped in some new research right now, but in doing so, came across some good links. Not quite sure how to do this - since if I just send you to Delicious, they'll get buried if you find this posting a week from now. I'll probably just link them from here too:

DevArts: "Development and Art seeks to collect, share, and support the ways visual artists everywhere are creating a better world."

"A Web-Based Resource for the Craft Art Community - v.3" - check out his main page too - the vision is growing (courtesy of Omidyar Network).

And a (fledgling) list of nonprofit blogs - please add your own, or send me a link and I can throw it up there. :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Build-in blog spell-checker...

.... thinks the word "blog" is misspelled.

Go figure.

(I'm sure I'm not the first to point this out...)

Getting my brain around folksonomies

I'm not even sure I spelled that right...

Anyway, I've been trying to figure out how Marnie's tagging experiment, as well as her recursive linking - could be helpful.

And I think I'm starting to understand.

First, it helps to realize how something like Delicious works (again, I eschew the periods, as I do obfuscation). What helped me think about my links on Delicious is that they are all live, all the time - and you can use the URL like a database search function (scroll down to "Views").

So if I type something like this: you will see a current list of links I created, using the tag "Wifi". So what happens if I add a Wifi link tomorrow? Well, when you come back to the link at the beginning of this paragraph a week later - it will show all current links, including the new ones I've added. So this very blog post could be two years old, but if I've continued to post to Delicious using the Wifi tag, the list will be up to date!

Note: The Delicious link above references my alter-ego, "Smoking Goat" - which means nothing to you except - these Wifi links you see are only the ones I have posted.

That leads to the next interesting thing - most of you are probably way ahead of me.... If I use Delicious' general tag URL, I can find a current list for everyone's links using a certain tag (using the word "tag" in the place of "smokinggoat" in the URL) - e.g. - I have no idea what will be listed here, because it is likely to change by the day, if not hour.

So far, so good. Then we get to my idea of tracking certain "topics" in this blog - like ticketing, for example. The order of the next few steps is not necessarily crucial, but I will try to keep them discrete, because they do not necessarily need to follow one another.
  • Link all my blog entries concerning ticketing to Delicious, with the tag "ticketing" (I've also added "nptech" and "arts_orgs" for good measure). Now, if you go to you can follow the blog discussion around ticketing.
  • I can also add "recursive" links to the blog entries. Take a look at one of the first blog entries I have retro-edited. At the bottom of that blog, I entered the following text into my blog entry:
(found in: ticketing... etc)
and the link I put in for "ticketing" was
So when you read one of the entries, and you say to yourself, "Gee, he's on to something there, I would like to read more about this topic" you click on the link, and all of a sudden you are taken to Delicious, which will show you a whole list of similar topics you can click on.

Yes, yes, I know all of you know it... But it took me a while to get my head around this. And as I said, these two steps are almost mutually exclusive - I can create a link on Delicious without having to reference it in my blog; and somewhat more strangely, I can create a Delicious search string link without there being any content. For example, I can create a link at the end of my blog like this:

And it will still work - by showing you the results of the "search string" you just created- I have never posted anything with that tag, so the page is blank.

One last comment: As I said, most of these links are to Delicious entries I myself created. I showed you one example of how to pull up a list of links created by anyone given a certain tag. Well, sometimes that is useful, and sometimes not. When I did it with "ticketing" (and I'll show you the URL so you can see the format: I got a lot of stuff - most of it not related to online ticket sales for performing arts organizations.

But.... I did find a gem, which I will review soon. So it's already working as a tool for gathering information! Not only did I find a new referral for online ticketing solutions, but I found a new person who might be linking to similar topics.

One question if you've made it this far: I am explaining to the choir? Or was there actually some new information here for you? I would love to find out if explaining stuff on this level if helpful for more people than just myself.

(Much thanks to Marnie for helping me parse out the different pieces to this puzzle.)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Veni, Vendini, Vidi

(Excuse the re-phrased classic quote. I didn't study Latin in school....)

The world of ticketing solutions is apparently quite competitive these days, which is why very few places publish their fees/ charges on their web site. So I'm here to expose them! Ha ha haaaaa!

Well, no. Of course, it would be a little misguided to base your decision purely on the cost - each service offers something a little different. And of course, we would recommend you call the company anyway to discuss the particular details you need to know for your particular situation.

So it goes with Vendini, a ticketing ASP that offers a couple of unique options (and lacks others) - possibly enough differentiation to be more important in the decision-making than small pricing differences.

Vendini offers the usual scope of ticketing services, but is really trying to push for complete box office service - including providing a system that can handle the box office work that typically happens in the office or theatre. However, you don't need to invest in the complete solution from the outset (or ever) - which sticks to my criteria of easy startup.

A quick rundown:
  • All usual ticketing features
  • Will only generate a will-call list; do not print or mail physical tickets (see box office solution)
  • No outside merchant account required for simple solution
  • Box office tie-in (see more below)
  • Tickets are purchased "from your website"*
  • Setup fee - because of the customization (see asterisk below); and the ability to include, share or add the service fee to the ticket price.
  • Vendini does not handle phone orders - Vendini's box office solution is meant to accommodate the org itself handling phone reservations/ purchases
  • Requires your own domain name (i.e., not )
* Their description is technically inaccurate, but I'll chalk it up to sales-speak. When you click to purchase tickets, it pops up a Vendini (read: third party) window, that has been customized to the look and feel of your organization. That's actually how I found out about them - looking to purchase some tickets from a theatre, and I noticed the "" in the corner. Essentially, their point is they don't punt you to a more generic page where you could see other gigs from other organizations (a la Ticketweb).

The additional "box office" solution is a web-based component that you access from any Internet-connected computer. It can help a performing arts organization handle phone reservations and purchases, and print tickets - with the purchase of a third party ticket printer. But you aren't required to invest in the ticket-printing hardware - many theatres work off of pre-generated reservation lists and proper identification. Another nice feature - email marketing tools with reporting to tell you how many people clicked through to your website (vs. how many unsubscribed as soon as they got the email).

There is a snag - if you want to implement this box office system, you are required to use Vendini's merchant account, as opposed to any that you might already have (at least until a Fall 2005 revision of the system).

Since it's Web-based, you can use it either directly at the box office, and/ or in the office - as long as their is an Internet connection. Producing venues could even install the system and offer it to renting companies as an additional benefit of the rental. And since it's Web-based, you can use the system on an PC or a Mac (but since I haven't seen it, I don't know if it relies on Microsoft-specific functionality which is sometimes kludgy on a Mac).

On last note as I point you to their FAQ - it's sometimes unclear to differentiate when they are talking about their TicketLine service (selling tickets through the web) and their TicketAgent service (the box office product). Keep that in mind as you peruse their wares.