Why have festivals become so expensive?

Covered mag, presented by Gocompare.com
  • | by Kristian Dando

Over a million live music fans are set to brave heatstroke, rain and dubious sanitation to watch their favourite bands, artists, comedians and DJs at festivals in Britain this year. The biggest events such as Reading and Leeds, V and Glastonbury sold out virtually as soon as they went on sale, as they have done regularly in recent years.

Festival tickets are more in demand than they ever have been. But the price of saying that “you were there” has grown exponentially in the past decade, to the extent that tickets for the biggest events are double and sometimes nearly triple the price they were in 2000. The mysterious 'booking fees’ involved in the buying of live music tickets are also a cause for concern, with Which? recently describing the charges made by agencies like SeeTickets and Ticketmaster as “overwhelming,” and sometimes adding an extra 20 per cent to face value.

Punters certainly aren’t happy with the price hikes. “I have no idea why or how they manage to up the ticket prices every year,” says seasoned festivalgoer Jamie Smith on Reading festival, an event he attends regularly. “There are no noticeably improved facilities and no discernible increase in the amount of music either.”

While it might be easy to accuse companies like Festival Republic – the firm behind Reading, Leeds, Latitude and Big Chill, as well as the official license holder for Glastonbury – of profiteering, there are plenty of other factors to which the rises can be attributed, as Tim Jonze, editor of Guardian Music, explains. “The boom in live music was partly caused by the abundance of recorded music made available on the internet,” he says. “Not only did these readily-available items work as promotion for live shows, but they also left listeners wanting a unique experience that could no longer be found through owning a piece of music. After all, everyone everywhere also owns it. Because of this increased demand, it's natural that festivals will increase their ticket prices – that's just how markets work. Way more demand equals price hikes.”

Increased competition in the festival marketplace has also led to bidding wars for exclusive appearances, too. “Big name artists are commanding huge fees to play, especially if it's a reformation gig. We heard some silly figures surrounding the performance of a band at Reading and Leeds last year - rumours were they were paid £1.5m for appearing,” says Jonze.

There’s little sign of ticket prices abating. After all, the sales figures show that people are still willing to pay high prices, and when compared to the prices of seeing bands individually, they might also be considered fair. “A ticket to something like Glastonbury is still decent value and following the recession a lot of people are looking as an alternative to a holiday rather than an additional weekend away,” says Guardian Music’s Jonze.

It’s a sentiment that our festival veteran Jamie Smith echoes. “Why do I go? I just love it,” he says. “Not the moaning, but the weekend. It's my Butlins. I am aware that the prices go up and I always whinge about it, usually while I spend hours in front of the computer just trying to buy the bloody tickets.”

Festivals on the cheap

Here are a few suggestions of how to cut the cost of attending a festival this year. Don’t forget to email the editor with any festival money-saving ideas you’d like share.

Work, steward or volunteer

If you can’t afford the price of a ticket - or if they have all sold out - then think about working or volunteering at a festival. Oxfam runs a stewarding program at events like Bestival, Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury and WOMAD which gives volunteers entry, food, camping and showers in exchange for providing revellers with help and information. You could also try getting media accreditation if you’re able to write for a publication, website or blog.

Go East

There are plenty of festivals in Europe, particularly to the East, which have much cheaper ticket prices than their counterparts here. Even by the time you’ve factored in the cost of a budget flight, you could still make savings, particularly as the cost of eating and drinking is often much cheaper. For starters, try Exit in Serbia or Soundwave in Croatia; just don't forget your travel insurance.


If the expense of going to one of the big name bashes is too much, have a think about going to a smaller event. Although the line-ups aren't quite as stellar, the atmosphere might be a bit more convivial, and it should be a lot less cramped. The price of entry should be much cheaper, too.

Take your own food

That stall selling goat curry might look pretty tempting as you stumble your way back to your tent at four in the morning, but it’ll cost you: food vendors are charged massive amounts to trade at festivals, and have to recoup their costs as such. Stocking up beforehand on non-perishable and easily-heated grub will save you a packet.