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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Can anyone be trusted to do the right thing...without being told to?

As a rule, I never ever ever ever ever ever give people who owe me the option of just doing the right thing, in terms of compensating me. I never tell them "It's up to you!"

Going back to my childhood, I learned that nine times out of 10, people just won't do the right thing if there's another option.

When I was a 10-year-old kid mowing lawns around the neighborhood - Willoughby Spit in Ocean View on the Chesapeake Bay, in Norfolk, Va. - during summers, my original business strategy for beating out the other "seasonal child laborers" was to do a butt-kicking mow job and then tell the resident "Just give me what you think is fair." My logic was that the resident would be so grateful for the good job and that I wasn't trying to stick it to them that they would ultimately pay me more than I would have asked.

That strategy lasted about a week, as slimy adult after slimy adult gave me just a buck or two or three, while the other kids were charging anywhere from $10 to $20 for the same work. Finally, I realized that I was being bent over without even getting kissed first, so I set a firm price for my services, eliminating all doubts about what my work was worth.

Even in adulthood, I didn't fully learn this lesson till a few years ago. I was on my way to a writing convention - this one in Atlanta, I think. And a buddy of mine asked if he could share my hotel room. I told him sure, so he asked what the tab was. I told him I wasn't sure, but off the top of my head I thought 50% for him would be about $300. And that's where things stayed until a week before the convention when I dug up the reservation and realized I had been way off. The total tab would be closer to $850. So I told my buddy about the difference, apologized, and reminded him that I was going from weak memory in our first conversation.

Now, considering our friendship, what I fully expected him to say was "No worries. So that makes my half $425, right?" or "I didn't set aside that much cash, but some time after the convention, when I get paid again I'll get you the difference." Instead, he said nothing. There was dead silence on the phone for a minute. So to break the awkward pause I said something to the effect of "Listen, you know what the tab really is now. Just do me right." And I left it at that. And how much money do you think my buddy gave me when he arrived in ATL and showed up at the hotel? That's right, $300.

So, my personal experiences aside, I was a little amused when I read that a recent "sales" experiment conducted by the band Radiohead did not go so well. The band recently released its new album In Rainbows. They made the album available on their Web site for free download and they invited fans to pay what they thought was fair.

Over a four-week period, it turns out that 62% of people who downloaded In Rainbows paid a whopping NADA! Zip, zero, nothing.

Of the 38% that chose to pay, an average of $6 was coughed up for the album. Forty percent of U.S. residents who downloaded the album paid for it, at an average of about $8. Thirty-six percent of people outside the U.S. who downloaded the album paid for it. They averaged about $4.60.

I applaud the members of Radiohead for being so progressive in how they share their music. But this brings us back to doing the right thing.

I believe a majority of people can do the right thing. But without a foot in the behind or some firm guidance, I'm just not convinced a majority of people will do the right thing.

Now that I've said all the serious stuff, I have this to say about any band thinking average people, even fans, would pay for something when they're not made to: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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  • You and I have come to the same conclusions. I told a friend who collected albums that he could look through my collection pick out a couple he wanted and pay me what he thought was fair.

    I had one worth 250 bucks and I told him such he took that and a few others and gave me $40.

    Yep people are scum. Unless you make them do the right thing most of them certainly will not.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 11:24 AM  

  • Dude, I am so with you on this. And I'll admit that I'm just as guilty as most people out there. If I liked Radiohead, I probably would have just gotten it and not paid anything. I mean, I'd have to go through the hassle of setting up a paypal account or applying for a credit card (I have none) and all that jazz. If I DID pay anything, it probably would have been $5.

    I've seen some places, small museums, national parks, etc that have a little box that says "Admission is free, but donations will this to continue" or something like that. I DO give money to those, but it's only a dollar.

    However, I will say your friend screwed you on that hotel thing. I would NEVER stiff someone like that.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 11:25 AM  

  • That's really sad that your friend screwed you that way. It doesn't surprise me so much about the album, coz there's a certain amount of anonymity there. But your FRIEND? Are you still friends?

    About the price folks chose to pay (for the ones who did) - I wonder if they paid less because they figured there was less cost to make it if it wasn't being burned to a CD, cover art created, and shipped, etc?

    By Blogger fiwa, at 1:06 PM  

  • I pay my bills to individuals much faster than I do to corporate entities (shut up you Comcast reps out there) and I really don't understand the friend only coughing up $300. Pitiful. Not a friend.

    My word verification :zugyfbmm - are you trying to chase me away?

    By Blogger jali, at 2:12 PM  

  • People suck. People definitely need a kick in the pants to do the right thing becuase everyones version of "right" varies.

    That friend who didn't cough up the difference just said your friendship isn't worth $150 OR and explanation. sucky.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:27 PM  

  • Here, here, Hammer!

    Kevin, I'm still on the fence. I know I would have paid something for the album, but I won't be a phony and say I'd have paid $12 or $15 or whatever the album would cost in stores. Maybe I'd have paid like $8, roughly the average other U.S. downloaders paid. I'd probably have justified that amount in my head by saying there was no cost for burning and packaging a CD.

    Fiwa, you read my mind on the cost of a CD being factored in. And no, that dude is not still my friend.

    Jali, I hate that word verification thing. I rarely get spammed anyway. So I don't know who/what that thing's supposed to stop. And "pitiful" is a good word for the former friend's actions.

    MyReflectingPool, it's a round world. My former friend has stuck it to more people than just me. Hopefully he's cleaned up his act, or what he bowled will roll up behind him eventually.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:37 PM  

  • As much as we would all like to believe that we would do the right thing even without any rules forcing us to, most of know that we wouldn't. Not always at least. We all have an amazing ability to rationalize our actions, so it's not likely that we would do the right thing on our own.

    By Blogger Jay, at 4:15 PM  

  • I think I'm a fairly honest person. That being said, if you let me download music for free, I'm probably going to download it for free.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 4:28 PM  

  • Radiohead had to look no farther than itself to realize what people would do if given the choice of paying for music or getting it for free.

    The group is either hopelessly naive, or hopelessly optimistic. Nevertheless, I applaud their faith in humankind, a faith that's not always justfied.

    By Blogger The First Domino, at 7:03 PM  

  • People have to be taught what the 'right thing' is before they'll even consider doing it. Then they have to be taught to do it.

    That's a lot of what parenting is about, particularly when your childrens' friends and families have different values, & your children want to know why you make them do things 'the hard way'.

    & even if people have been taught to do the right thing, there's no guarantee they'll keep it up as adults. When did you last see a popular TV series or film actually advocating this? So we have laws to help remind adults.

    Now if we could just have a few good examples . . .

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 4:38 AM  

  • that guy that couldn't cough up the extra $ for a hotel room is a first rate a__wipe, but for Radiohead, I'd actually heard that at first they did pretty well (heard it on the radio..) I guess as the rest of the peeps download, the averages change.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 3:26 PM  

  • I don't like those car washes the kids run where they have a sign saying, "Free. Donations accepted" (or "excepted," if it's Memphis public schools).

    Just tell me how much you're charging and then I'll decide if I want it. But I don't want any dirty looks or rolled eyes if I pay $5, because let's face it, two kids spending seven minutes washing a car with a rag and a hose is not worth much more than that.

    By Blogger class-factotum, at 6:00 PM  

  • It's disappointing about your friend who values his money more than his friendships and his own pride.

    We have a society that assumes a thing is worth whatever is on the price tag.

    For most people, sadly, doing the right thing means getting over on others as much as possible.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 11:57 PM  

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