The economics of Reading Festival


Ticket Touts: The Reading Music Festival provided numerous insights to the operation of markets. Like many, I failed to acquire a ticket within the 2 hours of official sales and had to resort to a tout.  These shady figures are considered disreputable, and many have called for a ban on the second hand ticket market. This distortion should not be allowed.

I have sympathy with those who bought into scams; these are acts of theft, a criminal act. But genuine trades should not be punished. These traders allowed me to go to an event in a mutually beneficial exchange. They allocate limited supply towards those who value it most.  I understand ticket suppliers wish to serve their fans, enabling genuine fans to attend regardless of ability to pay more, and in the past wanted to boost record sales, but there must be room for tickets to be sold at the market clearing price.

Combating externalities: As usual, huge quantities of drink were consumed. This amounted to over 6 tonnes of waste in the form of paper cups and 8 tonnes of cans. By paying 10p for the return of cup waste, 20p for water bottles and offering alcohol to those who returned bags of cans, the external costs on the farm were internalized. As a result of this scheme huge amounts were collected, and people were allowed to freely decide their stance to the externality.  Over 90% of the cups were returned in 2007, and many attendees made a job of collection, crawling round the floor to salvage waste. The market worked effectively.

Prohibition: The festival also called into question the debate on prohibition, highlighting some elements of the costly procedure of enforcement. An insightful book for further reading is Prohibitions. Recently published by the IEA, this book examines the costs of outlawing goods.

Music: On a slightly less serious note, highlights of the music from Reading and Leeds can now all be seen for free on the BBC.