Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sunday dollars+sense: Do Not Call... unless the price is right

HT: Joshua Gans.

Thrilled about the new Do Not Call register?

I know I am. All you need to do is go to, put in your details and no one will ever be able to call you out of the blue to sell you something again. (Apart from companies with whom you have a pre-existing relationship, the government, charities, churches, educational institutions and market researchers. Oh yes, and political parties.)

It’s good, but it could be better...

And I don’t only mean by closing the rather obvious loopholes. I mean by allowing calls where you charge per minute for your time.

I’ll explain.

Marketing phone calls and door to door selling are actually unusual. They are attempts to grab your time without paying for it.

In other circumstances marketeers are prepared to dearly to have just 30 seconds of your attention. How much do you think television and radio commercials cost? How much do you think an ad in the Canberra Times costs (except for the free classifieds on Tuesdays)?

Looked at another way commercial television itself is a means of paying us for our time. And what an elaborate means! We are delivered often exceptionally high-quality programs in return for the hope that we will look at a few ads.

Google and newspaper websites work the same way. We are delivered amazingly useful services on the off chance that an ad will attract our attention.

Our one-on-one attention over the phone should be worth much more. And worth even more if we have become especially attentive because we are being paid for it.

Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff, two economists from Yale University have worked out how it could be done. (You won’t be surprised to know that their book is entitled “Why Not?”)

Households that sign up for the Do Not Call registry could be given the right to authorise their phone company to connect certain calls that meet their quoted price, or prices.

If you want next to no calls you could set the fee at, say, $1,000 a minute. If, for instance, you enjoy taking part in surveys you could charge those callers only 10 cents a minute.

You would gain real control of your own time. Real control means the right to buy and sell.

Direct sellers are likely to jump at the chance, and pay us what they owe us.

Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff, Want to Call Me? Pay Me! The Wall Street Journal October 8, 2003