English translation below.
English version translated by Teng Jing Wei:
New “Three Dollars”
Cheow Boon Seng
Those who detest Sistic, please raise your hand. (And continue reading.)
A long time ago, I saw the play “Three Dollars” by Ding Xi Ling. A servant woman in the play had to pay three dollars as compensation for breaking her master’s vase. Because the servant woman was penniless, the case was brought up to the authorities, and it created a commotion. Those formidable three dollars nearly drove a woman to her death.
Times have changed; inflation has set in. What can three dollars buy nowadays? A bowl of wanton mee, three bottles of mineral water, half a movie, a return trip onboard the MRT to Orchard, and a day’s worth of electricity. Not much, but I guess three dollars is still something.
$3 service charge
Recently I came back to Singapore just in time for the theatre festival, and bought three tickets at a go for my friend. The high price of my purchase left me dumbfounded. Upon closer inspection, I realised $9 went to service charge - $3 per ticket.
The only “cost” of a ticket I could immediately think of was the paper it was printed on; yet, surely I do not need to elaborate on the “cost” of a 10cm by 3cm piece of paper. Increased costs have been attributed to soaring oil prices of late, but it would be ridiculous to use this reason to justify the increased cost of printing a ticket.
Then, perhaps, service charge can be attributed to Sistic’s two time award winning service. After much scrutiny, I found out: yes, the girls at Sistic’s counters do have dazzling smiles, but dazzling smiles and efficient services still cannot compare to a practical bowl of wanton soup.
If I buy my tickets online, I do not require any service, so I do not need to pay service charge, right? Wrong; not only do I have to pay service charge, I have to pay an extra 20cents, known as “ticket collection fee”. So is the $3 “internet service charge” for occupying Sistic’s bandwidth? Is 20cents the price for holding up a counter girl’s time?
My friend says 20cents may the price of “post-purchase service”, in case of lost of ticket. I did my research: a replacement ticket cost an extra $5 in administration fees.
Be it internet or over the counter, the service charge for one ticket, or three, to the same production, does not vary. If I, the consumer, spend as much time, energy, electricity and bandwidth as the producer, what gives the producer the right to impose a service charge?
In fact every organisation in Singapore that engages Sistic’s ticketing services has to pay an exorbitant, one-time “engagement fee”. This fee covers Sistic services such as publicity (basic web space on Sistic website) and technical support (tracking statistics of sale of tickets). Besides this fee, organisations also have to pay Sistic a token sum from their sales tickets. Why does Sistic still charge consumers a service fee when organisations pay a sky high price for engaging its services? Does whatever the organisation pay not cover the costs of consumer service?
Service or profiteering?
Unless, “service charge” is just a euphemism for “profiteering”. We may know the number of audience to a popular production (less than 10 full house shows), but we may never find out the profits. Sistic is allowed to arbitrarily charge $3 or 20cents or $5, since everything seems to be about money, why bother lying and calling it “service charge”?
I cannot accept the fact that we are being exploited as we fork out more than $30 to watch a production that is the result of an artistic troupe’s sweat, feelings and sheer hard work.
If the fees are truly not profits, but costs, then Sistic should question its internal operations’ cost management and its financial efficiency. Of course, in a monopoly, no matter how much costs increase, consumers are guaranteed. However, Sistic is jointly owned by the Singapore Sports Council and Esplanade Theatres – although essentially privatised but there must remain certain governmental influences – so why does it not show more consideration for the public?
In comparison to other cities: Hong Kong may have a higher living standard but the service charge there is less than what we have in Singapore. In Taipei and Shanghai, it is not even the norm to impose a service charge on consumers.
Can Sistic please explain what the $3 is charged for? Is it the price of paper, electricity, over the counter services, internet, post-purchase services, or something else? Why is it that the previously $2 service charge has increased to $3, are we receiving more service? Has Sistic thought about lowering its service charge in today’s context of rising inflation?
I really do not have many vases to pawn in my house.