We’ve talked a lot about different types of business models with “pay what you want” being a popular one that comes up often.
I still think there are some problems with it, but there’s growing evidence that it can work very well. When Radiohead got a ton of attention for using it, the band made more from the digital “donations” than any of its previous albums’ digital releases — even though plenty of people still chose to pay nothing, and the average price was a lot lower than standard. But average price is kind of meaningless when judging the success of such a program. It’s really the net that matters, and on that front, Radiohead did quite well.
We’ve seen the general model work elsewhere as well. A taxi driver had some success with it, as have many musicians who have used it with merchandise at shows. Even Panera Bread is testing it out. Earlier this year, there was a lot of attention paid to the really, really successful story of the Humble Indie Bundle that did pay what you want for a group of video games. That had an added component as well. Some portion of what you paid could be designated to go to specific charities (EFF and Child’s Play).
It seems that the folks behind the Humble Indie Bundle are on to something.
A fascinating new study has shown that “pay what you want” offerings seem to maximize the net take for those using it if they include charitable giving. The study was done at an amusement park, where people could buy a photo of themselves on a roller coaster, and four different situations were tested: (1) the standard “pay a fixed price” (2) a straight “pay what you want” (3) fixed price with part of the money going to charity and (4) pay what you want with part of it going to charity.
What’s amazing is that the fourth one was the best one in terms of the net amount to the seller (yes, after giving the portion to charity). Sales were much higher and the net dollar amount to the seller was much higher than the straight “pay what you want.”
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