Earlier this month, organizers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival announced a limited number of tickets would be made available for the first weekend of its 2015 event — shocking, given many fans were still reeling from this year's festival, which wrapped up just a month earlier.
Still, news of the on-sale date sent eager fans scrambling to log in with every laptop, desktop, tablet and smartphone in the vicinity to score the $375 passes. Predictably, tickets were gone in an hour.
In a simpler time, we just camped out at Tower Records.
In a way, those initial on-sale dates are almost pointless in today's market, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Fresno-based trade publication Pollstar.
When Justin Bieber came to Fresno in 2012, 500 people lined up outside the Save Mart Center at 5 a.m. the day tickets went on sale. More than a few were turned away (some in tears) because the show sold out so quickly.
It would, given that only 940 of the 12,000 seats were actually available for purchase the day tickets went on sale, according to a story from the Rossen Report that aired on NBC's "The Today Show." The other 92% of tickets were held for special groups or made available via presale.
Presales used to be a small percentage of tickets and exclusive to fan clubs, Bongiovanni says. You paid dues to be in the club and this was the perk. These days, any numbers of groups — from major credit card companies to the venues themselves — offer presales.
In major markets, it has simply become a known part of the process, he says: "In New York City, you're lucky if there's 2,000 tickets for general admission for the on-sale date."
And even if a show doesn't sell out immediately, the good seats will for sure be accounted for, Bongiovanni says. That's because there is a whole industry of professionals who make a living buying and selling tickets on the secondary market.
An interesting fact: Selling tickets for more than face value is not illegal, though California law prohibits it directly outside of venues and recently redefined how tickets can be purchased online.
So, tickets to the most popular shows disappear quickly — hence those sellouts — only to reappear on Craigslist or sites like Stubhub at inflated prices.
"It's a matter of what the secondary market perceives as a hot ticket," Bongiovanni says.
For instance, Bruno Mars' three-day run of shows in Hawaii in April was such a hot ticket that all three shows sold out within two hours. But only 6% of those tickets were sold at the venue. Almost half were sold outside Hawaii and went directly into the secondary market. This caused the Hawaii Senate to introduce the "Bruno Mars Act," which would require ticket vendors and entertainment venues to sell in-person tickets for the first 48 hours.
For now, it's left to consumers to try what they can. Like radio DJ Danny Salas, who had three computers running the morning tickets went on sale for Fresno's Bruno Mars show, which sold out quickly. I relay the story to Bongiovanni and ask if all the hassle is worth it, if there isn't an easier way to find tickets.
His answer is pragmatic, if not definite: "Did he get the tickets?" he asks.
This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram.