I Just Wanted to Buy Tickets to Mitski but the Bots Wouldn't Let Me

Queen of my heart, I just wanted tickets to see your show.
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Buying almost anything is ridiculously easy in 2019. I can wave my phone at a contactless payment terminal to buy groceries, order my groceries online and have them delivered to me, and my therapist just told me there’s an app that’ll deliver your meds to you.

You know what’s not easy to buy? Tickets.

Recently, a coworker came to my desk to let me know that seminal sad indie singer-songwriter genius Mitski was doing one last show before taking an indefinite hiatus from touring. Armed with an artist pre-sale code, I texted my network of Mitski-loving friends and told the troops to prepare themselves. At 10 am the next day, we were gonna get tickets if it killed us.

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We did not get tickets.

The next day, the AXS website had a server meltdown. I was half sobbing and crying at my desk while trying to be a functional Gizmodo blogger on a random Wednesday morning. I kept hitting refresh, over and over to no avail. My Mitski network had zero luck as well. A quick peek online showed many other fans had been plagued by the failing server as well. In the end, the ticket-buying bots won. My only other recourse was begging my friend with an Amex card to sign on the next morning and score me some tickets. Worst of all, this nonsense was all for a presale. I don’t even want to think what the bloodbath for general sale would’ve been.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a popular artist or show, you’re probably familiar with the ticket-buying grind. Your crew needs at least one person with one of those Amex cards that gets them access to presales. Or barring that, someone who’s good and fast enough at googling to find presale codes in insane fan communities subreddits. Your internet connection needs to be good, and if traffic is going to be bonkers, it helps to have the app open on top of the website. Because let’s face it—Ticketmaster, Telecharge, and other sites are notoriously bad and prone to crashing under duress. I’ve got it down to almost a science, but even then, I still sometimes miss out and have to face an average markup of 49 percent on resale sites like Stub Hub. That comes with its own risks. In addition to being more expensive, you also run the risk of buying highly believable counterfeits and getting denied access at the door.

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Buying tickets shouldn’t be like prepping for war, where everyone has to man their stations only to be failed by crappy sites and hit with stupid “convenience” fees.

It’s true, some things have improved. If you have digital tickets, you can now easily transfer them via an app if you can no longer go and need to sell them. But we all know who the enemy really is—bots. And it’s a travesty but no one’s been able to figure out how to best them.

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Back in 2017, a ticket broker was found using a bot army to buy up to 30,000 tickets to Hamilton, a show that’s notoriously hard to score tickets to. That same broker used bots to snap up the majority of tickets to the 2015 Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, a new study reported that bots make up nearly 40 percent of traffic to major ticketing sites. It also found that 78 percent of the bots were sophisticated enough to evade detection—meaning CAPTCHA is even more annoying and useless than I previously suspected.

Congress introduced the Better Online Tickets Sales Act (BOTS) in 2016, which was meant to help thwart scalpers and resellers. It set a fine of $16,000 for those caught violating the act, and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Uh huh, cool. So three years later, why are bots still snatching up all the tickets?

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Turns out, there’s no real penalty when you don’t enforce a law. According to Pew Research, the FTC has yet to bring any violators to task. That’s in part because sites like Ticketmaster and StubHub are doing jack to report the assholes who use these bots. Some ticket-selling sites also own verified online reseller sites. Ticketmaster, for instance, owns TicketsNow. And if they’re getting a cut of resold tickets, is there really an incentive to take the initiative in reporting any but the largest offenders?

That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that a small percentage of tickets are even available to the general public. A white paper by the New York Attorney General found that on average, only 46 percent of tickets are reserved for the average joe. The rest get divvied up between presales, and tickets held for artists, agents, venues, promoters, marketing, record labels, and sponsors.

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My fingers will never be faster than a bot—not even with a Gigabit internet connection. Even so, it doesn’t matter all that much when major players like Ticketmaster and AXS won’t regularly and consistently enforce measures like ticket limits, kicking off clearly fraudulent accounts, or regularly report violators to the FTC. It doubly doesn’t help that most of us are duking it out for an ever-dwindling number of tickets, on servers not meant to handle the load.

I eventually did get Mitski tickets. Begging, and a huge network of Mitski-loving friends helped. But if I’d been left to my own devices, I’d have been completely out of luck or faced with the choice of paying way more than my wallet can afford for the privilege. It panned out this time, but I’m left knowing it might not next time despite my very best efforts. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Therefore, I blog.

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.