Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stuff we don't often see discussed: the physics of mosh pits and the economics of ticket scalping

A few months ago I came across a story about the physics of mosh pits.  A few Cornell physicists (and part time metalheads) were blurring the lines between work and hobby, and their article came complete with a link to a mosh pit simulator.  I loved it.  No, it was just about the coolest thing ever.

Now their study has been published in Physical Review Letters, one of the top physics journals in the world. How much is there to love about this article?

1) The title is "Collective Motion of Humans in Mosh and Circle Pits at Heavy Metal Concerts".

2) In the acknowledgements, it's noted that "field work was independently funded by J. L. Silverberg" (the lead author of the paper).

3) The hilarious overuse of scientific language, e.g. "a collective phenomenon consisting of 10^1 - 10^2 participants commonly referred to as a mosh pit".

4) The Cohen group (i.e. the principal investigator of the study) are becoming minor celebrities out of this, check out the insanely long list of media outlets that have picked up on this story.

5) They are a shoo-in to grab the IgNobel prize for physics this year.


In other news, Adam Davidson examines the wildly counterintuitive business of ticket scalping in the New York Times.  It turns out that artists such as Bruce Springsteen, who undercharge relative to the prices that the market would bear, are inadvertently encouraging scalping.  The article ignores the psychological aspect of scalping, where there exists only a narrow window of time in the days leading up to the concert where the anticipation builds for the event and one can maximize the profits from scalping.  This would seem to make an already complex issue even more complex.  

I don't get the Kid Rock model of selling the best 1000 seats at a much higher price than the rest, because are fans really going to shell out that much for only marginally better seats?  And if they are willing to shell out the money, won't the scalpers still want to buy up those seats, because they still stand to make more money selling a small number of those expensive seats rather than a larger number of very inexpensive seats?  The third option is that the scalpers will stay away from those types of shows entirely, but is there really any data to support that?

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