On Value and Price

1. I’m glad to hear the New York Times will probably not put its core news content behind a payment wall after all. Instead, they’re test-marketing some extraneous “gold” and “silver” plans that I hope New York Times loyalists will pay up for, though the author of the article linked above is skeptical that such loyalists exist.

But the comments to my previous posts on this topic indicate that the Times does have its loyal enthusiasts. Meanwhile, one of these posts is apparently causing John Williams to wear out his neck muscles shaking his head in disagreement. He quotes novelist Katharine Weber’s response to me, as follows:

But Levi. Could you have reasonably refused to read the NYT twenty years ago if you had to buy it at a newsstand or pay for home delivery instead of just having free copies handed to you on the street or dropped in your driveway? … Much has changed, yes. But has the economic rule which used to be as certain as the laws of gravity, the rule of paying for things of value, really begun to vanish? How is this not a zero sum game?

Williams calls Weber’s comment “succinct and totally sensible”, and says:

I’m still waiting for a substantive response to this line of thinking. There have been plenty of cultural developments that I love in the past 10 years: Netflix, iTunes, The Wire. One way or another, I pay for all of them.

I can’t turn down a direct challenge, so I’ll try to offer a substantive response to the idea that we must pay for things of value. However, I find the idea almost too childish to entertain. First of all, just as we can name things of value that we pay for, we can also easily name things of value that we don’t pay for. The Office. Music on the car radio. Outdoor sculptures and great urban architecture. Oh yeah, and then there’s free news and commentary on the Internet which, plain and simple, we are already not paying for.

If we want to examine this classic “rule of paying for things of value”, let’s consider one of the many masterpieces of nature: the orange. This weekend I bought an entire bag of delicious fresh Florida oranges — marvelous, ingenious, healthy and beautiful things, really — for about two bucks. Taken purely for its value, a single orange could easily be worth five dollars. Likewise, taken purely for its value, a bottle of corn-syrup-flavored orange soda shouldn’t cost more than ten cents. But these hypothetical prices don’t correspond to the real world. We never actually pay for things according to their value. We pay for things according to the law of supply and demand.

When John Williams declares that we pay for things according to their value, he is doing no more than expressing a keening wish. Declaring that we pay for things according to their value is like declaring that we will stay young forever, or that there will be no more crime. It’s nice to think such things, but they never were true and they’re still not.

I wonder if John Williams will consider that a substantive response. If he does, maybe he should pay me.

2. Here’s a really sweet story about the married couple on the ‘Woodstock’ album cover.

3. Speaking of the New York Times, Gregory Cowles has uploaded a particularly good essay on Nabokov’s Lolita to the Paper Cuts blog.

4. Scott Esposito on Intense First Person (a narrative stance I tend to use a lot myself).

5. Way back in 1935, Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein.

6. Basil Wolverton was okay, but if you’re talking about classic Mad Magazine you’re talking about
Harvey Kurtzman.

7. Nicholson Baker ponders the Kindle in the New Yorker and, not surprisingly, the essay soars above most of the other commentary on this hot topic. “I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax.” It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read Baker’s previous works on library science and antique newspapers that he will ultimately not choose to embrace the Kindle.

8. Speaking of the New York Times (and their home delivery problems) again: hah.

7 Responses

  1. Here’s a mind-blowing concept
    Here’s a mind-blowing concept that I just contemplated: what if everything were free? It’s theoretically possible, but is it something that can be implemented?

    Imagine, everything goes on the way it is now, but no money changes hands. At what point would it break down? Who would be the first to renounce the system?

    We have gotten to the point where in many cases money is just a click of a mouse or a swipe of a card. We can buy big things like cars and houses without ever reaching into our actual pocket to pull out cash – we pay with “virtual cash”, although it has to be backed up by money in the bank, like the dollar used to be backed up by gold.

    If you look at the internet, a lot of things are literally free. You have to pay a start-up fee to use them: buy a computer, sign up with a service provider. But I could create a web site for free, and anyone could look at it, again, for free.

    If everything were free, would people cease to be motivated, or would they continue on? If the New York Times were free, would the journalists and editors continue to put it out, if they in turn got food and clothing for free?

    Something to think about…

  2. I can buy a lot of used books
    I can buy a lot of used books for $359, the price of a kindle and also can continue my Amazon boycott. If I want to buy books from a bookseller, I go to powells.com which has excellent customer service, something Amazon doesn’t wish to spend money on.
    The younger generation who has been indoctrinated to reading monitors may like what kindle offers but my tired eyes still prefer books.
    I got a new Will to Power for $6.00.
    I new a guy who had a Kindle1 and his child broke it.

  3. So glad “A New Page” passed
    So glad “A New Page” passed muster at The New Yorker. Read it tonight without a kickstand and found fun: “Alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization;” “like Pippin staring at the stone of Orthanc;” “nesting Italo Calvino world of packaging;” “letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth;” “marginalia has been demarginalized;” “a hose blast of marketing;” “divine retro-futurist fire;” “enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts;” “microspheres dived down into their oil-filled nodules;” “particular tea party of un-ergonomicism;” “string of curving words will toot a mournful toot;” and “its gutter gapes before your eyes.”

    I was surprised, however, that Mr. Baker reads James Patterson in any format. I worked with a man who’d been at Patterson’s ad agency in a “creative” capacity. He told me that Patterson had an un-missable sign posted just outside his office door that read [warning: you might want to have an airsick bag handy for this one]: “Dazzle Me!”

  4. Levi,

    That’s right, city

    That’s right, city boy, keep eating our Florida organges… let the colors blossum in your mind… let the vitamin C take hold… soon enough, you’ll be pronouncing utopian visions on par with Sir Thomas More, Michael Norris, Tim Leary, and the rest….Mwahhh-hahahahaha!

    Warren, I have had nothing but excellent service from Amazon. What have they done to incur your wrath?

  5. I needed to buy a book for a
    I needed to buy a book for a US Coast Guard exam for my marine engineer’s license. I ordered it. It was canceled via email. I talked circles with someone in a call center in Bangalore and got blown off.
    Powells.com takes my orders over the phone and sends the books to wherever work finds me. The difference is night and day. Their customer service is handled by someone with a clear American accent and who speaks English as their first language.
    I don’t need to pay to have someone treat me as a less-than-nothing. I can get it in the workplace.
    Neither do I like Amazon’s CEO’s celebrity or the “vision” fawning media-sycophants grant him in interviews. He’s just another suit, a Wall Street hustler and his company can’t even do simple tasks: customer service and schlep books.

  6. I dunno about the sweat shop
    I dunno about the sweat shop but no complaints here either.

    Hey !!! They washed their Blanket…..

    Go get ’em tiger… Don’t they know the best things in life are free ??????

    Like your memoir and this local cover band “the Laughing Madmen” i mean they nailed james brown, tom jones, elton, petty, dion, j geils and stones just to name a few and threw in an original(can’t recommend that) to boot. No parking hassles, picnic tables if needed free to walk around or rush the stage, can’t beat it at any price.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!