We've just had an "interesting" experience failing to book tickets for a heavily oversubscribed festival (not classical, as it happens). Tickets went on sale at 9am today, with several authorised outlets available. At 9am, we were online attempting to log in to various websites while at the same time trying the phone numbers.

Clearly, several tens of thousands of other people were doing the same, because every one of the websites either keeled over completely or gave "we're very busy, try again in xxx" before eventually admitting to being sold out. The phone numbers didn't do much better: most simply gave a busy tone. An hour or so later, websites were up and running again indicating "sold out", so presumably it was the luck of the draw: if you happened to be one of the ones where the website replied or you happened to hit the phone at the right split second, you got your tickets.

This process, whereby tickets go on sale at a set time, can't be sensible. it must be hell for the people in the call centres, a nightmare for whoever is designing the ticketing websites, and is a monumental waste of time for everyone trying to buy tickets. There has to be a better way of doing ticketing for very popular events.

It makes me realise that the Proms system of doing a ballot works pretty well for this. If you put aside the evil capitalist thought that maybe the tickets are underpriced (or maybe they should be auctioned), a ballot would work quite well. It could be opened as soon as ticket prices are known: at this point, everyone who wants tickets can input their details and requests at leisure. The ballot would then be done at a stated closing date. It's not completely trivial to write the software which sifts through the various requests doing its best to satisfy as many people as possible while being fair on everyone, but the task should be well within the abilities of a decent developer. Certainly, it's a considerably easier task than making a ticketing site work at several thousand times its usual traffic level.

Rock festivals aren't the only people with this problem - could the ticketing people in opera houses and major classical venues also listen?

David Karlin 5th March 2010