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