The £1 phenomenon

Some of my friends are in a band. Not constrained in a gastric band or an elastic band or anything of that nature, no, they have a menagerie of instruments all excreting tunes together to create that most magical of concepts, music. Now, they have gigs fairly often, and one of the band members (his official role is ‘guitar 2’ – glamorous) recently openly wondered why offering a gig with a £1 entry fee attracts more interest than a gig with free entry. He mused that maybe this is because a free gig may seem like less of a bargain than a gig for the low, low cost of one of the Queen’s pounds sterling.

Why does this seem more attractive to the average person? Something that’s free is often of very low quality, and people don’t tend to particularly like things of low quality when they’re free. Something of equally low quality that costs £1 however, can often seem a much more attractive prospect. One pound buys you next to nothing in this economic climate (Cheers George) and so to get anything of note for that sort of money is very exciting to most. Live music is often very expensive, seemingly more expensive the worse the music.* For example, the cheapest ticket to One Direction’s musical(ish) extravaganza at the Etihad stadium costs £70. If you don’t already look like a guppy right now, that’s over £40 more than a ticket for an under 16 (No-one over 16 goes to 1D gigs, so that’s a pretty direct comparison) for a Manchester City match at the Etihad. Before this next part, I want to you to close/lock any windows near you, and put away any sharp knives. Are you sitting down? Good. The most expensive ticket for that particular spectacle of barely tuneful warbling is £1,135.23. Yes, I know. To put that figure in some sort of entertainment-based perspective, the top season ticket for Arsenal (the most expensive season tickets in the Premier League) costs £1,470. But that gets you entry to 19 90 minute spectacles of the world’s most popular sport played in a world famous stadium including some of the best players in the world, especially now Arsenal have signed Mesut Özil. Conversely, the One Direction gig is likely to span about the same amount of time as one football match. Just take a minute to digest all that.

In regards to the original question, why is £1 a more attractive price than £0, imagine you were standing on a street in Leicester, selling boxes of Thornton’s chocolates for £1 each. Many people would be willing to pay a single pound for a normally expensive product. An odd likelihood is that if you simply approached people in the street trying to give them Thornton’s chocolate they’d think you mad and probably move swiftly away.

A real-life example of this phenomenon happened in a ‘Young enterprise’ team I was a member of a few years ago. ‘twas near Valentine’s day and we were selling plastic roses at a shopping centre in Cambridge for a pound a pop. People, being stupid, reckless and naïve creatures, were buying them. Let me stress, these were terrible quality, shoddy and unrealistic rose-like accessorised sticks we’d bought from eBay for a very low cost. At the end of the selling day, predictably, we had some stock left over. We knew post Valentine’s day they’d be entirely unsellable, so being the altruistic young bucks we were, we decided to give them away, completely free of charge. That’s £20 worth of fake roses, free. My colleague and friend Lee (see his account of this tale here: attempted to give them to a woman who he deemed deserving of this gift. She unceremoniously rejected this generous offer of products that had sold somewhat consistently throughout the day at an inexplicably high price. Of course, that price doesn’t seem quite so high when it wouldn’t even buy you half a Latte from Costa, but high nonetheless.

So, to conclude, I don’t really know why people are more inclined to pay a small price for something rather than accept it with no cost at all (but possibly some perceived ‘strings’). Maybe it’s because for non-friends-of-the-band it costs £3 and humans are suckers for a sale irrespective of the fact that they could’ve previously enjoyed the same experience and paid infinitely less for it.



*Of course musical taste is entirely subjective and you’re free to listen to whatever you like, I just implore you not to listen to One Direction.


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About Mark Dolan

Hello there, I'm Mark, a 21 year old English archaeology student. I write about various things; archaeology, musings on my life, and various bits of society that I have something to say about.

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