Subject to BS


Once or twice you might have noticed the initials ‘STBF’ on your gig ticket – Subject To Booking Fee.

Booking fees have been around for years and are widely accepted as a necessary evil to cover costs. The other additional cost you would commonly encounter once upon a time was postage and packing.

As a cheapskate of some repute, I will still go out of my way to avoid one, if not both of the above, if possible. I still miss the incongruity of the Ticketline box office window inside what was once the Easy Internet Café above Manchester’s St Anne’s Square. I love the invariable bewilderment of staff at Band on the Wall every time I turn up during my lunch break asking to buy tickets in person. I might take a stack of pound coins with me next time so I can enjoy the eye roll as they put the chip and pin away.

In recent years however, the prevalence of more insidious and usually unexplained additional fees has grown and grown. In our digital age we have of course said goodbye to postage and packing. The backlash against fees for ‘print-at-home’ tickets is well documented, but with true e-tickets based on apps like Dice, this has become another historical charge that will not be missed.

Websites have replaced the real life box office in most cases too, and the everyday logic of music fans, based unfortunately more in hope than reality, suggests that this should make selling tickets cheaper.

Sadly, it seems this is not the case. Here are three recent examples:


  • Ticket £29.50
  • Service charge £3.70
  • Facility charge £1.25
  • Handling fee £2.75
  • Eticket free (assuming you download the ticket site’s own app)
  • Optional extras
  • Gift box £4.95
  • Standard post £0.70
  • Ticket protection £3.95
  • Charity donation £1 – £5 suggested

The ticket price is listed up front as £34.45 (including service and facility charges) yet the ticket itself is still listed separately with a “full price” of £29.50. The handling fee is added later. Not one of the purposes of these fees is explained. The lack of transparency is really galling. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for a friend who will pay me back later. But how can I justify asking them to pay back the fees when they know the value of the ticket itself it considerably lower? Imagine if you bought a ticket for a friend, say for their birthday, but you weren’t sure if they would definitely be able to make it, you didn’t have time to post it yourself, and were fortunate enough to still have a spare fiver for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Well you’ve just imagined away an extra 75% of the ticket price on top. We all know that insurance is one of the worst things humans have ever dreamed up to make you pay for nothing, but £3.95 is pure extortion. Imagine if your home insurance was priced at 13% of the value of your house.


  • Ticket price £10
  • Mystery fee £1.25
  • Box office collection £2.50
  • Optional extras
  • Ticket protection £1.65

The ticket seller’s website says:

“The transaction fee covers the costs of processing your order, packing and delivering the tickets to you. In many cases it also covers the cost of producing your tickets. This fee can also apply to tickets arranged for collection.”

The ticket was simply listed as “face value” of £10 and then the £1.25 is added on the next screen of the online checkout like it was always there. It was not named as a transaction fee. Again either it’s a fee, so explain it, or don’t pretend it’s part of the price of the ticket and list it separately.

I got to the venue and naively asked the bouncer outside where I could collect my ticket. He directed me upstairs. There was no box office. There was no ticket. My name wasn’t even on the A4 sheets they had printed out at the door. A quick wave of the confirmation email on my phone, a stamp on the back of the hand and I was in. Should have paid myself £2.50, never mind the £1.25 that, according to the explanation, was supposed to cover costs for the very same thing.


  • Ticket £15
  • Service charge £1.50
  • Postage and packing £2.40

I stand corrected on postage and packing, it is alive and well! There was no other option in this instance and I have no idea why.

I can only live in hope of receiving a hand written note of thanks and a signed photo from the band in the same package. It’s the least they can do for two quid.

Having said that I am excitedly looking forward to holding a tangible ticket in my hands. I collected tickets religiously in the 00s and stuck them to a pinboard. It’s a work of art. This will be the first addition in a long time.

I’ve been careful not to name names of bands, venues or ticket sellers, but the major sponsors and international ticket websites will do just fine if you don’t go to the Mobile Phones Mega Arena one time. New bands and small venues need fans much more. That’s why I don’t begrudge a little bit extra for in the right circumstances. Though I’m sure you can guess which of the examples above is from an established artist playing at a large corporate sponsored venue, booked through probably the world’s best known ticket site.

So what is the solution? Dice is leading the way in more transparent pricing and has been made with music fans in mind. Nobody seems to have fixed the issue of touts, but the aggrieved noises from multinational ticket selling websites does not fall on sympathetic ears. When they can simply charge fans more to cover losses they claim to be caused by touts, then what motivation do they have to foster change? Some ticket resellers are just as bad.

As music fans it falls on us. If there is a box office, go to it. You could even treat yourself to a pint while you’re there with the money you’ve saved. Support your local independent venues. Don’t buy from touts. Finally, get your money’s worth and go see the support band, they might surprise you.


Word by James Spearing.

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