Summer books: Brad Stone’s ‘The Everything Store’

a difficult case

In the past few months there are few businesses that have come in for such vilification as - including in many of the stories and blogs here at - and so Brad Stone's book, subtitled 'Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon', is timely, to say the least. It has been the subject of deep reviews by George Packer at The New Yorker, and Steve Coll in The New York Review of Books, and I recommend each of those. It is hard in this case to separate a review of the book and a review of Amazon itself (I don't think I'm the only … [Read more...]

The future of nonprofits?

zero marginal cost?

Commercial or nonprofit? In studying the cultural sector one of the key questions asked is why we see both kinds of firms in the arts, where nonprofits are more concentrated in some sub-sectors than in others, and I pose the question to my students: how does an entrepreneur choose the organizational form for her new enterprise? Today in the Times we have an opinion piece by Jeremy Rifkin, 'The Rise of Anti-Capitalism', who posits that the nonprofit sector is bound to rise in importance over the next few decades, not because of long-running … [Read more...]

Is Amazon good for readers?

good for this reader

I enjoyed George Packer's New Yorker article on Amazon, and recommend it. ArtsJournal's link to the story has the heading "Is Amazon good for books? Not just publishers, but books themselves?" The New Yorker's own sub-heading is "Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?" I find the question a bit puzzling. I can understand asking whether the rise of a particular corporation is good for buyers, publishers, authors, or other types of person. But what does it mean to ask, as a separate question, whether Amazon is "good for … [Read more...]

Pricing to fill the house

not fun

ArtsJournal links to this piece from Britain's Guardian on pricing at the Met (see here for an earlier post of mine on the subject). Tom Service writes: They filled just 79% of the seats in that huge, red-velvet covered house, and made only 69% of their projected box-office revenue. For all the millions who watched the cinema broadcasts, those are astonishingly low figures for the world's most expensive opera house. The Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, admits an experimentation with a more flexible pricing structure, borrowed from Broadway, … [Read more...]

Scaling the airplane

My legs have gone numb!

In my previous post I wrote about companies offering superior levels of service (for a price) that necessarily involve making the service worse for other customers, such as offering a deal that allows high-paying customers to cut in line where there is a queue. Here is another example. Airlines are trying to further price discriminate in seating. The old model of simple differentiation between business and coach class is giving way to finer gradations in the coach section, where passengers can pay for extra legroom. But just as there is no … [Read more...]

Paying for position

no frills

The New York Times reports on Universal Studios Hollywood: It has introduced a $299 V.I.P. ticket, just in time for the summer high season, that comes with valet parking, breakfast in a luxury lounge, special access to Universal’s back lot, unlimited line-skipping and a fancy lunch. V.I.P. visitors also receive “amenity kits,” which include mints, a poncho to wear on the “Jurassic Park” water ride and bottles of hand sanitizer. Disney still serves up its roller coasters the old-fashioned way — one rank for everyone, white collar next to … [Read more...]

Lotteries should not be used to fund the arts

no way to fund the arts

Blog neighbor Greg Sandow posts about the relationship between arts funding and gambling, especially regarding early Italian opera. It's tongue in cheek, but he concludes: For those without a sense of humor: I know very well that gambling raises moral questions, and legal questions, too, not to mention questions involving real estate. Where would the Met put its new casino? Where in the opera house would there be room enough?  But let’s not forget that gambling — I’ll never call it “gaming,” its euphemistic marketing meme — has spread … [Read more...]

Limiting the charitable deduction

marginal rates

As my blog-neighbor Lee Rosenbaum reports, the proposed 2014 budget from the White House would cap the tax benefit for charitable donations at 28%. In the U.S., where donations are deducted from the income tax base, the actual rate at which your donation is subsidized is your marginal tax rate, i.e. the rate that applies to your last dollar of income earned. Marginal tax rates rise with income, with a top rate of 39.6%, and so a wealthy donor who gives $100 to the local museum gets an income tax reduction of $39.60. The budget proposal would … [Read more...]

How two-part pricing works

and pricey beer...

In the previous post we set out the basic idea behind price discrimination: your potential audience has different maximum prices they are willing to pay for what you have on offer (their "reservation prices") and you want to find a way to get individuals to pay something close to their personal maximum, so long as it covers their marginal cost to you. Two-part pricing is a type of indirect price discrimination: everyone is offered the same deal when it comes to prices, and they choose options that reveal whether they have high or low … [Read more...]

A primer on price discrimination

who knows their reservation prices?

My previous two posts dealt with different aspects of price discrimination, and since many future posts will cover the topic from various angles, I think it worthwhile to go over a few basic ideas and definitions. Marginal cost will be defined here as the cost to your arts organization of serving one more customer. It might be one more person through the turnstiles of your museum, one more person taking a seat for your performance or festival. For the examples just given, marginal cost might be very close to zero - it costs nothing at all to … [Read more...]