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Pay What You Want For The Freakonomics Movie…

September 17th, 2010 · 7 Comments
Follow Ups · Uncategorizable

Aaaaaaannnnd the press releases keep coming. Does this mean I am a legitimate media outlet now? 🙂 Normally I would balk a little due to the lack of personalization in the emails I am getting from the PR firm handling the Freakonomics movie (don’t get me wrong- I love learning about this sort of stuff, I just don’t like feeling like I am being spammed), but, well, what they are telling me about is actually sort of interesting. So here goes:

New York, NY (September 15, 2010) Magnolia Pictures and the Green Film Company announced today a unique screening program in ten cities across the country that will allow filmgoers to choose how much they want to pay for an advance look at Freakonomics: The Movie. The highly anticipated film version of the internationally bestselling book by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt hits theaters nationwide on October 1st. These pay-what-you-want screenings offer fans a chance to see the film on Wednesday, September 22nd, over a week before its official opening, at Landmark Theatres in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Denver and Seattle.

Tickets for the screenings are now available, and are being exclusively sold online through Filmgoers can choose how much they wish to pay—anywhere in the range of $.01 to $100, with the completion of a short questionnaire. The survey, which after completion gives access to the ticket buying page on, is accessible here:

The data collected anonymously at the time of purchase will be analyzed by authors Dubner and Levitt to identify what factors and circumstances prompt movie-goers to pay more or less for their screening tickets.

In the spirit of the creative, incentives-based thinking behind Freakonomics, the pay-what-you-want screenings reference a popular experiment from the original book, in which authors Levitt and Dubner analyze how people interact with a weekly, pay-what-you-want bagel delivery service.

“The pay-what-you-want screening represents a fun and engaging way to illustrate the underlying premise of Freakonomics—the application of economics and incentives-based thinking to everyday situations to uncover surprising and sometimes controversial conclusions,” muses producer Chad Troutwine. “It seems only fitting, then, to engage Freakonomics audiences in their own local economic experiment, offering a chance to see the film in advance of its theatrical release while simultaneously bringing the concept of incentives thinking to life.”

Space at the pay-what-you-want screenings are limited, and tickets available on a first come, first served basis. In addition to opening theatrically nationwide on October 1st, Freakonomics is also available for rent at a premium advance price on iTunes (, Amazon, and On Demand through major cable providers everywhere.

A few notes:

  • As one who rented the movie (in high-definition no less), I feel like a victim of temporal price-discrimination. In other words, I paid a premium to be able to consume the item right away rather than waiting. At least I am less cranky than the people who bought the new iPhone a few years ago and then watched it drop in price shortly thereafter.
  • I am going to the screening because…well, I kind of want to see how many other people go, and I find it difficult to resist free, er, pay what you want, stuff. So if you’re going to the showing at the Kendall Square cinema, come find me and say hi. If you people actually follow through on that, perhaps we can grab a drink afterwards or something. (Yes, I know it’s a school night. Thanks, mom.)
  • I find it interesting that the survey didn’t ask whether the responder had already rented the movie, since that is clearly something that would affect willingness to pay. I suppose they might be assuming that people who already rented the movie wouldn’t go to the screening, and this is part of the reason why I am not allowed to participate in economic experiments.
  • While we’re on the subject of experiment design, I would like to point out that a. screenings are often free, which probably influences willingness to pay in this case, and b. subjects enter a payment amount by choosing from a multiple-choice list of amounts starting at $0.01 and increasing from there. Given that behavioral economics research shows that people are biased by initial anchors in determining willingness to pay, I’m guessing that Levitt and Dubner did no favors for their revenue here. (That said, I refer you to point a.)
  • A number of other blogs/web sites have publicized the screening, and I like reading through the comments to the posts because they give some insight into how people feel about the whole pay what you want situation. For example, this is what Consumerist readers have to say on the matter. (Ignore my shameless plug on that post.)
  • I would like to take this opportunity to quote Homer Simpson:
    Homer: “Hey, what do you mean by suggested donation?”
    museum cashier: “Pay any amount you wish, sir.”
    Homer: “And, uh, what if I wish to pay zero?”
    cashier: “Well, it’s up to you.”
    Homer: “Ooh, so it’s up to me, is it?”
    cashier: “Yes.”
    Homer: “I see…and you think that people are going to pay you $4.50 even though they don’t have to, just out of the goodness of their…(laughs) Well, anything you say…good luck lady, you’re gonna need it.”

If you want to know what you are getting yourself into before you go, I did a review of the movie last week.

Tags: Follow Ups · Uncategorizable

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Charles Dolci // Sep 20, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    “Pay what you want” huh? I’d like to be able to pay my taxes based on what I want to pay – which would be determined by what I get in return for my taxes.

    As an aside – Jodi talks about cranky ” people who bought the new iPhone a few years ago and then watched it drop in price shortly thereafter.”
    I’m not so sure I share Jodi’s sympathies. How about “Your Mama’s so stupid she was cranky when the price of an iPhone dropped after she bought it!”
    I strongly suspect that a large majority of those people are not all that cranky. They got precisely what they bargained for. They spent $X for an iPhone and $Y for the bragging rights for being the first to get them.

  • 2 Alex Rodriguez // Sep 21, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Damn it, the show time was sold out… I shouldn’t be surprised, yet I’m disappointed. Not because I’m missing a cheap movie, but because I would have loved to grab some drinks with Jodi 🙁

    That definitely would have been an incentive influence how much I would have paid for the movie…

  • 3 Alex Rodriguez // Sep 21, 2010 at 10:49 am


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