Earlier this week, I bought a ticket for my wife to go see my play Pumpkin Patch in SlamBoston. $17 ticket, but that's okay (I had a comp for my own seat). However, when I went online to buy the ticket, there was a surcharge of $4.50. (That's more than 25%.) What?
So I called the box office number instead, so I could buy my ticket by phone. The woman said they'd charge me the same surcharge. If I came down to the box office in person, then I could buy the ticket for the straight $17. She told me that there were plenty of tickets left, so it'd probably be okay to wait. (Luckily we didn't wait--since the show sold out completely and not everyone on the waiting list got seats.)
This is stupid.
On-line box office services are very exciting, especially for small theatres, because they reduce labor costs, they enable small theaters to accept credit card purchases, and they reduce no-shows. In the old days, when we used to have reservation lines on our answering machines, patrons would reserve seats but not pay. No-shows, depending on the weather, might range from 30-50% for small companies. With on-line box office set ups, patrons buy tickets ahead of time and companies don't lose money on no-shows. This is using technology to improve the method of doing business. Ticketing is more accurate (rather than notes scribbled on the back of envelopes). Tracking is possible. The company can start building a mailing list. All very cool. Theatres want patrons to buy their tickets online.
Unfortunately, they don't act that way. Instead they penalize the behavior that they're seeking. Companies need to train their patrons to buy online, pay ahead, and show up for shows. Music promoters have long understood how to train their audiences--tickets are cheaper in advance, more expensive at the door.
This is basic stuff. I know that venues sometimes force the use of the in-house box office and tack on large fees. On-line services, like TheatreMania, can take a couple bucks per ticket. But that's part of the cost of doing business. It costs more to have no-shows, or to drive people away from theatre because they don't want to pay surcharges and don't want to risk showing up without a reservation or ticket.
Technological innovations are supposed to make processes more efficient and cheaper, folks. Theatres, especially small theatres, need to pay attention.