Monday, February 08, 2016

Money matters 2 – online payments and ticketing systems

The other week I wrote about practical solutions for dealing with choir finances.


This week I want to look at the many options for using online services to collect payments and set up box office systems for concerts.

printing your own tickets

When I started out I used to print my own tickets at home and hand them out to choir members to sell on a “sale or return” basis. It was simple and worked reasonably well.

It was a lot of work though and hard to keep track of sales. People would say that their friends were “definitely coming” but “hadn’t paid yet” then at the last minute “decided not to come”. Which meant that I couldn’t keep track of how many were going to be in the audience.

Whether you print your own tickets or not, you still have to find an easy way for people to buy them.

go straight to the bank, do not pass Go

One of the cheapest and easiest ways for people to pay you is by direct bank transfer. The big drawback is that I don’t like to put my bank details in the public domain so people have to email me first. Which is one more barrier to people buying stuff.

It’s even possible to do it on your mobile phone these days. My bank in the UK is part of the Paym system which means I only have to give my mobile phone number for people to pay. Not many people have adopted this though.

on-line box offices

In recent years there has been an explosion of on-line box office and ticketing systems. One of the best-known is Eventbrite, but there are plenty of others out there (I used TicketSource for a while, but am going to try WeGotTickets as it’s much cheaper for low cost tickets).

All these systems allow people to book and pay on-line using a debit/ credit card or PayPal account (or similar) and then either download an e-ticket to their smartphone or print one off at home.

They allow you to keep track of audience numbers, allocate seats, input your own sales and all the other things you’d expect from a box office service.

Most of these services publicise themselves as “free on-line ticketing systems”. What they mean is that it’s free to sign up, but if you charge for tickets, they will charge you a fee for selling them.

hidden payment “processing fees”

What is not immediately apparent is that they will usually charge you an additional “processing fee” when people use credit/ debit cards or PayPal to pay for their tickets.

As an example, at the time of writing (February 2016), TicketSource charge 45p + 2.5% (per ticket) + 3.5% (card payment processing fee). There is an additional charge of 20p per ticket for payments via PayPal.

So if you charge £10 for a concert ticket, TicketSource will take 45p + 25p + 35p = £1.05 for someone paying by credit card (£1.25 if they pay by PayPal). You will usually have the option of absorbing this cost yourself (so it’s invisible to the customer), or passing it on entirely to the customer, or splitting it between you.

If you charge less than £10 per ticket, you’re probably better off with a service like WeGotTickets of Oxboffice who charge a flat rate of 10% all in.

But if you charge much more than £10 (for example, if you’re running a workshop at £25 per person), then TicketSource becomes cheaper (£1.96 compared with £2.50). So choose your ticketing service accordingly.

pay monthly services

There is another option: pay a monthly all-in fee for those months that your tickets are on sale. For example, if your tickets are on sale for two months leading up to your concert, a service like Ticket Tailor will charge you £15 per month + VAT (£25 per month + VAT if you are running 2-3 different events). So if you’re expecting a large number of ticket sales, this can work out cheaper than paying a fee per ticket.

For instance, if you’re selling £10 tickets and hope to get an audience of, say, 100, then TicketSource will cost you £105, WeGotTickets will cost £100, but Ticket Tailor will only cost £36 (including VAT at 20%).

do it yourself

Another on-line option is to sell tickets on your own website. You can set up a shopping cart service on your site (worth it if you sell lots of other stuff like CDs or sheet music). These are known as e-commerce solutions.

Some free or cheap (usually open source) examples are AgoraCart, Zen Cart, OpenCart and TomatoCart. These packages involve various degrees of technical know-how and usually mean putting software on your website’s host. They can be integrated easily with PayPal.

I’ve recently started to use a service which just involves copying and pasting a bit of code to my website: Shop Integrator. It integrates very easily with PayPal so people can use debit/ credit cards to pay. Although it keeps records of payments, I need to ask customers to print off their receipt to use as a ticket. My only overheads are the standard PayPal charges (3.4% + 20p per transaction).

do we even need to sell tickets?

Somebody recently pointed out that they don’t charge for their concerts but have a “retiring collection” (i.e. people donate as they leave). This has resulted in greater income than from previous ticket sales! Something to consider as it makes the whole thing much easier (although you do have to count the cash at the end of the evening). One drawback is that you won’t know in advance how many people will turn up.

Chris Rowbury



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