How Paying What You Want Could Actually Work

payingThe Internet-driven concept of setting your own price seems to be taking off. Do you buy into the idea?

The whole thing started, at least in the mainstream sense, with the release of Radiohead’s 2007 independently released “In Rainbows” album. The band offered its fans a deal too good to refuse: Download the whole thing, and pay what you want for it — whether it’s $0 or $212. (The inspiration, by the way, came during a “stoned philosophical conversation,” according to Radiohead’s managers.) Data from traffic measurement firm ComScore showed the average payment coming out to $2.26 — which, when you consider how little musicians actually get from major label sales, isn’t too shabby.

Now, that chemically prompted concept is spreading far past music. Good Magazine recently launched a new campaign to let subscribers pay whatever they see fit for a year-long subscription. The minimum is a single buck. “We decided that what Radiohead did meshed with where our heads are at,” the publication says. “So meet the new model for Good.”

A conference called Free Culture 2008 is getting on-board, too. The event — focused on “free culture, technology, copyright, remixing, and free software” — is offering registration at any amount participants feel like shelling out. So far, the average payment is $21.35.

So can the model work anywhere? Some, such as Techdirt’s Kevin Donovan, predict it’ll “become widespread and sustainable.” It sure seems to have worked so far — but why? Why would people possibly keep paying reasonable sums for things they could get for free?

Here’s the real reason: Because the things utilizing the model have high value — and not just in general, but to their customers. If the U.S. Postal Service tried to instate a “pay what you please” policy, no one would hand over a single dime. Same goes for the cable company, or the phone company. So yes, the model may have a legit place in future commerce — but it can work only with entities that treat their customers with respect and provide a service they value and appreciate.

Speaking of which, on a totally unrelated note, have I told you how nice you look today? We here at TechCult respect you and hope you value, even appreciate, our content. Also, my name is JR. Just so you know. In case you want to send something. Like cash. Or cookies.