As a society we have a strange relationship with money. Here are a few examples:
It costs a lot to go to Madame Tussauds but it’s free to go to the National Gallery. Pay £20 (or whatever) to see some crappy tat or pay nothing to see some of the greatest art in the history of the world. And yet the National Gallery is never so packed that you can’t get in and have some decent space to check out a Turner or two. But then there might be a temporary exhibition that contains works from the somewhat unloved permanent collection and you won’t be able to get a ticket for love nor money. 300 days of the year no one’s interested in the picture; add some hype and it’s bedlam.
Related to that is the oddness of the cinema. Movies cost the same no matter how expensive they are to produce – £13 for Amour is the same as £13 for Rise of the Guardians. But never mind how much it cost to produce; movies also cost the same no matter how good or bad they are. I know there’s no ultimate empirical measure of cinematic quality, but it’ll cost you the same to see Taken 2 as it will to see The Master. What if a movie became more expenisive depending on its rating on Rotten Tomatoes? And what about 3-D? Why is that the one production expense we have to pay more for (usually in shit films)? Then there’s having to watch ads before the movie. On Youtube you are able to click ads off after five seconds and that site is free. In the cinema you pay up to £20 a ticket to sit through something you’d switch off at home, or pay money to avoid on Spotify or Kindle. So it’s widely accepted that people will pay to avoid ads, but you can’t do it at the cinema. They don’t even have an exact timetable so you can come in when the ads are over (ads: 3.20. Trailers: 3.35. Movie: 3.45). Why not? Don’t they want to get more people into the cinema instead of pissing them off? Or is it part of the deal with the advertisers that timings are kept vague?
A similar situation happens with books. Many of the greatest books in history are available almost for free, but the latest Jeffrey Archer might cost £20 in hardback. Here is something that is universally agreed to be ‘better’ that will cost you nothing, and here’s a load of crap that will set you back £20. Which you would you prefer? ‘Oooh, could I please have the expensive crap?’
The poorer people are, the higher the proportion of their salary they give to charity. Do people become richer because they’re tighter? Possibly, but I think the reason behind this is that if you earn £100k then the idea of giving £5000 to charity isn’t that appealing. But if you earn 20k you’ll be more likely to give away closer to £1000.
And what about airlines? The Easyjets and Ryanairs are much cheaper if you book early, but surely the tickets sold at the end of the booking period are the ones they really need to get rid of. If they’re left with a planeload of people who all paid £10 then surely that’s bad business. What it comes down to is a subtle tax on our lack of organisation. Or, to put it another way, a kind of reward for being organised. How odd that airlines reward us for thinking ahead.
The sites people use the most these days, such as Facebook and Youtube, are basically free (leaving aside their crappy attempts to slip ads in and monetise the experience), but we resent the hell out of any attempt to change them in a way that inconveniences us for the generation of cash. But it must cost many millions to run Twitter etc., and they give a great deal of pleasure, so why are we against paying a little to make them happen? I think it’s because they started for free (as they have to in order to get the early punters in), and when that changes people are not happy about it. I guess the Times’s move from free to paid for is an example of what can happen there: some money comes in but people desert the experience in droves (‘I have to pay for high-quality journalism? Like I’ve done for years and years in the past? Fuck that.’). And then there’s always the good old BBC, which some of us pay a sort of tax on each year, allowing people from around the world to use it for free. And of course that’s always going to provide some pretty stiff competition to any of the newspapers that actually want to make some cash.
So why do we pay for some greater elements of quality and quantity and resent others? What seems worth the cash and what doesn’t? It must be very difficult to price anything that isn’t a solid thing to be owned. All the above are abstract experiences that bring some sort of pleasure or stimulation, and that’s totally subjective and therefore pretty darn hard to put a price on.