A few weeks ago, the New York Times announced that they would start charging readers for online content in early 2011, and since then the million-dollar question has been: will it work? Will readers fork over the cash to keep reading the Times, or will they go elsewhere?
The main problem of this approach is that over the years of free access, the New York Times has trained its readers for years that the right price (or the Anchor) is $0 – and since this is the starting point it is very hard to change it.
So, should the New York Times give up? The trick with anchoring is that although we are not willing to pay more for the same thing, we are willing to pay more for different things. What this means is that one approach that the New York Times could take is to present us with a new experience so that we don’t associate it with the previous anchor, and are open to new pricing.
Let me explain. Because we’re not very good at figuring out what we are willing to pay for different products and services, the initial prices that new products are presented with can have a long term effect on how much we are willing to pay for them. We basically can’t figure out how much pleasure the New York Times gives us in terms of $ — so we go back and pay the same price we have paid before. This means that getting people to pay for something that was free for a long time will be very challenging, but it also means that if the New York Times were to offer some new service at the same time that they start charging, they might be more likely to pull it off.
It’s a strategy that Starbucks founder Howard Shultz put to good effect. Before he came along, consumers were used to paying much less for coffee from spots like Dunkin’ Donuts. So to incite us to shell out more for his coffee, he worked hard to separate Starbucks from other coffee shops. He designed it to feel like a continental coffeehouse, putting in showcases with croissants, displaying french presses, and coming up with exotic drink and size names. He redefined the coffee experience, and by doing so, convinced us to pay more.
The Times could try to take on a similar approach …
Surowiecki starts by describing a very important observation made by Thomas Schelling about the N.H.L:
“At the time, players were allowed, but not required, to wear helmets, and most players chose to go helmet-less, despite the risk of severe head trauma. But when they were asked in secret ballots most players also said that the league should require them to wear helmets. The reason for this conflict, Schelling explained, was that not wearing a helmet conferred a slight advantage on the ice; crucially, it gave the player better peripheral vision, and it also made him look fearless. The players wanted to have their heads protected, but as individuals they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their effectiveness on the ice. Making helmets compulsory eliminated the dilemma: the players could protect their heads without suffering a competitive disadvantage. Without the rule, the players’ individually rational decisions added up to a collectively irrational result. With the rule, the outcome was closer to what players really wanted.”
In the rest of the article, Surowiecki tries to make the case that we all feel the same about cars with higher fuel-economy — and that we want to be forced into this situation.
I am not sure I agree. There are clearly situations where we want to be forced into a better social equilibrium (for example, I want other people to drive safer), but this strikes me more as a situation that we want others to start driving more fuel efficient cars and less about a social coordination.
What do you think?
I wrote this about 8 months ago — but it makes particular sense right now ….
If (as is often the case) talking about sex makes people more interested in having it, does that mean that the current talk about a recession could actually be creating one? Well, maybe.
Or so one general finding of behavioral economics would have us believe. With all this chatter about a recession, consumers might, for example, hold off on buying that new dishwasher because of the “bad economy,” or pass up the more expensive restaurant because “we’re in a recession.” Without any discussion about recession, we’re unlikely to change our pattern of behavior. But talking about it can be a force that affects our decisions and alters our consumption habits.What makes me think that we’re such creatures of habit? Consider the experience of eating a Godiva truffle: The chocolate is melting in your mouth, the aroma penetrates your nose, there is a small nut inside. . . . Now think about this familiar experience and try to determine how much it’s worth to you. A quarter? $0.50? $0.75? $1.25? $2.50? While the experience of eating a truffle is very familiar, figuring out what we would be willing to pay for it proves difficult. So what do we do when we make purchasing decisions? (more…)