What Really Happened with WWDC Ticket Sales

Yesterday, Apple announced the sale of tickets for this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at 5:30 AM PDT. They were sold out less than two hours later, leaving most people on the west coast of the U.S. to discover that tickets were gone before they even woke up. In other words, many of the developers who live in Apple’s backyard of Silicon Valley or in the San Francisco area where the WWDC will be held, will be unable to attend.

At first look, this didn’t strike me as a fair or wise way to have handled the ticket sales. What exactly was Apple thinking?

Many west cost developers are missing out on WWDC this yearMany west cost developers are missing out on WWDC this year

According to John Martellaro, my colleague here at The Mac Observer, “events unfolded exactly as Apple wished…The developer community in California can darn well fend for itself. Young developers, in Apple’s view, don’t mind jumping out of bed at 5:30 in the morning.” If not, Apple is telling developers that “WWDC isn’t for you. You’re not developer material.”

I beg to differ. No one outside of Apple knows for sure what Apple’s thoughts were regarding this matter. But I would be very surprised if they were anything as harsh as John suggests.

I believe a simpler and more benign explanation is more likely: Apple miscalculated. Last year, tickets for WWDC similarly went on sale about 5:30 AM PDT. They too sold out on the first day, but not until the evening, giving people on the West Coast a chance to grab a ticket.

Apple might well have anticipated that ticket sales would be even brisker this year. In response, they tightened the rules regarding reselling tickets. As I understand it, if you purchased a ticket this year, only you can use it. Last year, you could sell your ticket before you activated it, allowing people to scalp tickets on eBay and such. This reselling isn’t going to fly this year.

Tickets this year were also limited to “one per person and five per organization,” a restriction that I don’t believe was in effect last year. This has led to a few odd cases of ticket purchases being cancelled for what Apple claimed were violations of the multiple-purchases rule.

Apple likely assumed that these new limitations would dampen the initial rush of ticket purchases, softening the expected overall increase in demand. In the end, if all went about as planned, tickets would again sell out somewhere near the close of the day — not within the first few hours. All would be well.

Unfortunately, demand was much higher than anticipated (a common phenomenon with almost anything associated with Apple these days). The result was that West Coast developers were shut out, something that Apple did not want or intend.

What might Apple do next year to avoid this same result?

One possibility is that they do nothing. Let the chips fall where they may. Whatever Apple may or may not have intended, they certainly aren’t being hurt by the result. Any other company in the world would love to have Apple’s “problem”: host an event for $1600 a ticket and sell out in two hours.

If Apple did care to do something, they could delay the opening bell until maybe 8:00 AM PDT. Or they could announce the day before that tickets will be going on sale at 5:30 PDT the next morning. Some have suggested that Apple hold a ticket lottery; Apple has never done anything like that and I don’t see them going this route.

Still, unless Apple enlarges the event, none of the potential solutions resolve the fundamental problem. The number of available tickets remains at about 5,000. If Apple delayed the start of sales by a few hours, it would improve the odds that West Coast developers would be able to snag a ticket. But that only means some other developers would lose out. It’s not as if everyone who orders a ticket in the first two hours is guaranteed to get one. Once the seats are gone, there are no more to be had. Next year, WWDC could sell out in 10 minutes.

That’s why no matter what Apple does, there are going to be a lot of unhappy developers. There’s no avoiding that.

[Some images courtesy Shutterstock]