Whilst the internet and technological developments provide massive opportunities, they also create problems. For some time now, newspapers have seen declining sales, as more and more information becomes available online. Type something into Google or any other search engine and you will typically find thousands of relevant articles, even if the story has only just broken. As revenue from newspaper sales falls, revenue has to be made somewhere else to continue investment in ‘frontline journalism’. The question is: where will this come from?
The Financial Times and News Corp’s Wall Street Journal charge readers for online access and we can expect this to become more common from May, when the Times and the Sunday Times launch their new websites, where users will be charged for access. Subscription to these online news articles will be £1 per day or £2 for weekly access. Whilst the Executives of the Times admit that they will lose many online readers, they hope that the relatively low price, combined with a differentiated product will be enough of an incentive to keep readers reading.
Critics of this strategy argue that this a high risk strategy, as there is so much information available online. Whilst the BBC does plan to curtail the scope of its website, the Times and Sunday Times will still face competition from them, as well as the Guardian, the Independent, Reuters, etc., all of whom currently do not charge for online access. However, if you value journalism, then surely it’s right that a price should be charged to read it. Only time will tell how successful a strategy this is likely to be and whether we can expect other online news sites to follow their example.
Times and Sunday Times websites to charge from June (including video) BBC News (26/3/10)
Murdoch to launch UK web paywall in June Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (26/3/10)
Times and Sunday Times websites to start charging from June Guardian, Mercedes Bunz (26/3/09)
News Corp to charge for UK Times Online from June Reuters (26/3/10)
Murdoch-owned newspaper charges for content BBC News (14/1/10)
- Why have newspaper sales declined?
- How might estimates of elasticity have been used to make the decision to charge to view online articles?
- ’If people value journalism, they should pay for it.’ What key economic concepts are being considered within that statement?
- Why is charging for access to the Times Online viewed as a high-risk strategy?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy? To what extent do you think it is likely that other newspapers will soon follow suit?
- Which consumers do you think will be most affected by this strategy?
- In what ways might non-pay sites gain from theTimes’ charging policy?
- Would you continue to read articles from the Times linked from this site if you had to pay to access them? If so, why? If not, why not? (We want to know!!)
Are consumers ‘rational’ is the sense of trying to maximise consumer surplus? In some circumstances the answer is yes. When we go shopping we do generally try to get best value for money, where value is defined in terms of utility. With limited incomes, we don’t want to waste money. If we were offered two baskets of goods costing the same amount, we would generally choose basket A if its contents gave us more utility than basket B.
So why do we frequently buy things that are bad for us? Take the case of food. Why do we consume junk food if we know fresh produce is better for us? To answer this we need to look a little closer at the concept of utility and what motivates us when we consumer things. The following article does just that. It reports on writings of Michael Pollan. Pollan looks at our motivation when choosing what and how much to eat. For much of the time our choices are governed by our subconscious and by habit.
“Millions of humans, while believing they govern their actions with conscious intelligence, clean every morsel from their dinner plates, mainly because their parents told them to. And we do this even if we don’t particularly like the food on the plate and even if we know we should be eating less of it. Unthinkingly, we follow a habit we would condemn if we looked at it clearly.”
You mar what you eat and the politics of Michael Pollan National Post (Canada), Robert Fulford (18/1/10)
- What is meant by ‘rational behaviour’? Is it reasonable to assume that people are rational in most circumstances?
- Is eating junk food consistent with the attempt to maximise consumer surplus?
- How relevant is the principle of diminishing marginal utility in explaining the amount of junk food we eat?
- To what extent are the problems that Pollan identifies examples of (a) imperfect information; (b) irrationality?
- What does people’s eating behaviour reveal about their preferences for the present over the future and hence their personal discount rate?
- What are the policy implications of Pollan’s analysis for governments trying to get people to eat more healthily?
In a recently published book, Scroogenomics, Joel Waldfogel, Professor of Business and Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the economics of giving presents and considers whether we would be better off being Scrooges. This book brings to a general audience some of Professor Waldfogel’s work on giving. In a 1993 paper, he argued that holiday gift-giving involves a deadweight welfare loss. “I find that holiday gift-giving destroys between 10 per cent and a third of the value of gifts.” (See The Deadweight Welfare Loss of Christmas. Note: you should be able to access this from a UK university site if you are logged on.)
The core of his argument is that many gifts we give are not really what the person receiving it would have chosen. If you give someone a gift costing £10 for which the person would not have paid more than £6, then that is £4 wasted – a deadweight loss of £4.
So should we all be Scrooges and stop giving? Think of all money that would be saved and which could be spent on things that were more wanted. But wait a minute. What about the pleasure (i.e. utility) of giving? And what about the pure pleasure of receiving a gift, irrespective of the gift itself? Should these be added in to arrive at the total utility? Then there is the pleasure (or hassle) of shopping for the gift. Shouldn’t this be taken into account too? In other words, to establish deadweight loss, we need to take into account all the pleasures and displeasures of the process of giving and receiving.
Finally there is the question of whether better research on the part of the giver into the tastes of the receiver would enable them to choose more wanted gifts. Or should we simply give cash or gift tokens: at least these can be used by the recipient for whatever they choose?
Interview with Joel Waldfogel Princeton University Press, on YouTube
See also the following articles:
It’s not just Scrooge who wants Christmas abolished Financial Times, Tim Harford (20/11/09)
Stop blaming Grandma for cruddy Christmas presents Seattle Times, Joel Waldfogel (20/11/09)
It may not be the thought that counts Washington Post (22/11/09)
Economics of gift vouchers BBC News Magazine, Ruth Alexander (17/12/07)
The high cost of ugly, useless Christmas gifts Globe and Mail (Canada), Erin Anderssen (13/11/09)
Author’s argument that unappreciated gifts drag down economy isn’t Scroogish, it’s foolish Mlive.com, Nancy Crawley (8/11/09)
Give gold, not myrrh The Economist (21/12/09)
- What factors would need to be taken into account in attempting to measure the true deadweight loss of giving? Would this involve inter-personal comparisons of utility and, if so, what problems might arise from this?
- Examine whether it is better to give cash or gift tokens rather than a physical gift?
- Consider whether charitable donations would be the best form of gift to a friend or relative?
- One practice used in many families is the ‘secret Santa’. This is where everyone in the family secretly draws the name of another family member at random. They then buy a gift for this person and put the gift under the tree (or in a box). Thus each person gives just one gift and receives one gift and nobody knows who has given them their gift. Normally a maximum value of the gift is determined in advance. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of such as system. Is it a more efficient way of giving?
- What are the macroeconomic arguments for giving presents at Christmas time or at other festivals?