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Dash for tickets to Stephen King event in Somerville has blood-curdling ending for some

Stephen King.
Stephen King. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, file/Invision/AP

Leave it to a Stephen King-related event to come with a bit of horror.

Shortly after Porter Square Books launched a link online last Friday for customers to purchase deluxe tickets to a discussion featuring the Maine author and his son, Joe Hill, the website crashed.

When it came back up, the system allowed more people to purchase passes for the Oct. 10 event at Somerville Theatre than were actually available, leading to many fans getting notified that their order had been placed, before eventually getting a second, more disappointing e-mail that there had been a mistake, and they didn’t actually score tickets at all.


The ticket ordeal started off innocently enough last week. In its first update to customers, Porter Square Books officials said on Facebook and Twitter: “Our website has crashed. (And perhaps also our phones.)”

The situation was one that people sometimes encounter when vying for tickets to such a high-demand event.

Despite the crash, the bookstore remained optimistic, it seemed. Employees encouraged King fans hoping to buy the deluxe $65 tickets, which included a seat and signed books by both authors, to “keep refreshing the page you are on. We’re working to get this up as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience!”

In a second update an hour later, the bookstore informed people that the website was back up. That was great news. But a second problem — perhaps even worse than a system crash — came with it.

“Because we needed something else to go wrong the crash disrupted our stock settings & so we oversold the tickets,” Porter Square Books wrote. “You will get a SECOND email from a bookseller to confirm your purchase. Once again, we apologize so much for the frustration this has caused. Thank you for you patience.”


In a final update, just before 4 p.m. Friday, the bookstore said it had fulfilled all orders for the deluxe tickets, and “everyone who ordered will eventually get an email from us confirming cancellation & refunds.”

“It will take us a bit to get to every order. If it were up to us & we’re sure Joe & Stephen would agree, everyone would get to meet their heroes, the writers who shape & enrich their lives, but that is just not possible,” the company wrote. “We apologize again. And we thank you all for your patience, understanding, & support.”

Both the store’s Facebook and social media feeds were quickly flooded with complaints Friday from people who thought — due to the overselling of tickets — that they were all set, only to find out later their order would be cancelled.

“Travel arrangements have already been made — I need my tickets!,” one person, who apparently planned to travel to the area from out-of-town, wrote on the bookstore’s Facebook page.

A second person said they had already been charged, and had similarly made plans to fly into Boston from far away.

“I better get my 2 tickets,” the person wrote. “My husband already put in for his day off work so we can attend this from out of state. travel plans have already been arranged and I am coming from Ohio!”

Norman Zolkos, who lives in Rhode Island, was also one of the unfortunate fans who believed he was on his way to the special event.


“I had logged on the website and bought two tickets, paid for them, money came out of my account and I received a receipt,” he said in an e-mail to the Globe. “I was elated to meet my hero.”

Then he learned he wasn’t going. Four hours after the purchase, he received a second email from staff at the bookstore, which detailed the error and said he would be refunded for the purchase.

“First of all, our sincerest apologies for all of the frustration we caused by the crash of our website. We had been assured that it would be able to handle the traffic and clearly that was not the case,” the e-mail, which Zolkos forwarded to the Globe, said. “Unfortunately, we are unable to fulfill your order.”

Dina Mardell, co-owner of Porter Square Books, said there were only 250 deluxe tickets available from the bookstore’s website.

She said when the site went down, the stock was reset. This, she said, led to more people getting confirmation e-mails that their purchase was placed than were supposed to get them.

“We so wish this did not happen,” she said.

Mardell said the bookstore decided to honor sales to customers who were on the website first, and had placed tickets in the “check out” basket, before the site crashed. When a customer is creating an order, it’s assigned a ticket number in chronological order.

“We can see who was the first person who created an order. As soon as the site was back on, they could go ahead and complete the orders, so we honored the first person who put tickets in their cart,” she said. “That felt the fairest to us.”


For their part, King and Hill seemed sympathetic about the situation.

In a tweet about the glitch last week, Hill thanked the bookstore staff and everyone who tried to purchase tickets for being patient through the ordeal, a message that was then retweeted by his father.

“Big thanks to the Porter Square Books gang for hanging in there through technical issues,” Hill said. “And thanks too to everyone who decided a night of book-talk with me n’my dad sounded like fun — you’re the best and we’re grateful. See you in October.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.