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....


Blogger Chris said...

Brown Paper Tickets is an incredible idea. I have some contacts that could use this service...

Thanks for posting,

Chris R
The Ultimate Small Business Merchant Account

2:13 PM  
Anonymous L. doyon said...

oh wow, how curious. i knew that services similar to this existed ( being one), but i like the way brown paper tickets approaches credit card processing. i often get free tickets from a local casino i frequent, i will have to try and use this service next time i get some.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great service for people buying tickets. Not so much for the merchant. They will only pay the collected funds after the event. So if you need the funds to help with the event, forget it. Also conveience fee is being raised. They will also charge for a background check if want to be paid other than a month after the close of the event. Not good.

5:42 PM  
Blogger lucy said...

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12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was always impressed with Brown Paper Tickets efficiency and low cost. I still believe that you have a service that was long overdue, but I definately found a flaw tonight. The venue, Theatre off Jackson is so poorly posted, that I never found it. Not your fault how visible merchants choose to be, but no more pre-purchased tickets here for me. Sorry :(

11:16 PM  

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