Would You Pay $100,000 for a Short Story?
The other day, someone paid $200 for THE TUMOR. I'm using Pay What You Want Pricing, so buyers had to pay a minimum of $1, but they could pay any amount above that they want. It got me thinking about pricing.
This morning, I test drove a Maserati Ghibli. 345 HP. It wasn't like driving something better. It was like driving something else altogether. I'm not in the market for a Maserati, but I wanted to understand the value of things and pressing the gas pedal on this vehicle -- the throttle, the noise, the gun of it -- caused something to click in me internally.
I don't know the guy who paid $200 for a 1,546-word short story I wrote. He's a stranger. He emailed me the other day and asked me: How can I repay you? "You and your words have impacted my life in many ways over the years, some good, some well that was my own fault really," he wrote. "I feel I owe you something for all your words, ideas and culture you have lead me too." I told him to buy a copy of THE TUMOR. "The Pay What You Want pricing option gives you the ability to pay whatever you want for it," I told him. "It's a way of letting creators know you support their work." Then he sent the $200. Which surprised me. Thanks, man.
I use Gumroad to process my payments. It was recommended to me by Clayton Cubitt. He uses Gumroad to charge people who want to pick his brain. That's the InterroClayton. The other day, I emailed the CEO of Gumroad and asked him what the most expensive product being sold on Gumroad is. He directed me to Rock Health. For $1,999, you get a one-year Digital Health Research Subscription. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds awesome. The CEO of Gumroad was born in 1992. Halle Tecco, who cofounded Rock Health, got her MBA from Harvard in 2011. Pricing as we know it has changed because the people who set the prices are changed.
After that guy paid me $200 for a copy of my story, I sent him an email. I thanked him. I mean, wouldn't you? I asked him if it was worth it. "It is because I could pay for the other stuff," he replied. Which was a reference to something he said earlier in his email. "I already have got my monies worth by reading your blog and following links to sometimes amazing things." It wasn't about the story, I think. It was about the experience. People will pay a set amount for a product. They will pay another amount for an experience. I think what people want isn't things. I think what people want is to feel things.
I asked some people who bought THE TUMOR why they bought it and why they paid more than $1 for it. Here's what they said: "I have HISTORY with your work." "I think anything over what the asking price is is a payment toward the talent for the work to create it." "An artist who has offered her work to the public for as little as $1.00 is obviously making a gift of a large percentage of its value to potential buyers." "I figured it was a short story and that a novel costs anywhere from $15 to $40 but that I value local writers, underpaid writers, self-published writers and I had the money and I was feeling generous and maybe I had killed a bottle of wine with a friend that night and I was thinking I would give that money more as a vote of confidence than anything else."
As part of this process, I have read and am reading a few books. I read Austin Kleon's Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. He reminded me to "Become a documentarian of what you do." I read Tom Morkes's The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing: How to Share Your Work and Still Make a Profit. I found this book completely annoying, but on page 58 he wrote: "Remember, people contribute to humans, not corporations. So tell us about the blood, sweat and tears you put into your product or service." (THE TUMOR only exists because in late 2011, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Today, I am cancer-free. I would guess that I put one gallon of blood, two shopping bags of sweat, and three swimming pools of tears into this product. I also donated a chunk of flesh. I have no idea what the market rate for a tumor of the size I had is today. I'll leave that to the experts.) I'm still reading Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. Indirectly, she led me to have a weird conversation with an old man in a grocery store who told me that he was annoying because he was asking me, a random stranger, what I thought he should put in his oatmeal ("Sunflower seeds?" he inquired), which made him say of himself, "I'm annoying, aren't I?", which led me to respond, "You're not annoying, you're just trying to get what you want." This was an honest exchange between two human beings standing near bins of seeds and nuts in the aisle of a Whole Foods on a weekday morning.
In any case, as of today, THE TUMOR is $5. But, you know, pay what you want.
Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."