Yesterday I went to an electronics store to purchase a big, shiny new TV.
The clerk dutifully informed me that it cost $1299.00 plus tax, to which I responded, "Actually, I'd like you to give it to me for free."
He seemed unpersuaded.
"I can't pay you for the TV right now," I explained, "but if you think about it, it's better for your business if you give it to me for free." Again, he failed to grasp my logic. Carefully but forcefully I pointed out that I like inviting people over to my house to watch movies and sports, so a lot of people – potential customers, one and all – would get to see the TV. "If the TVs you sell are any good, people will be really impressed and come here to buy one of their own!"
He regretted to inform me that I must pay for it.
"I am paying for it, just not in money. I'm paying you in exposure, which is worth more than money." To sweeten the pot, I offered to throw in a couple of beers for the store clerk and promised him that I would order pizza when the TV was delivered and if there was any left over, the delivery people could have it.
Still nothing. I grew frustrated.
"Don't you see???" He did not see. "$1300 right now is only worth $1300. If you give me the TV for free you won't make anything today, but you'll make $1300 many times over once everyone sees this TV." I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do charge people a $5 cover to watch sports and movies at my house. But that's beside the point, it's unfair to say I'm "profiting" off the TV just because it does all the work and I charge people money to see it, of which I pocket 100%.
He asked me if it wouldn't be fair, hypothetically, to share that cover money with the store. But don't I have a right to make a few bucks for the overhead costs – those lights aren't free! – while the TV is getting all that really valuable exposure? "I'm doing you a favor here, man!"
Suppose my logic was valid, he asked, making sense for the first time that day. Let's say ten of my friends come into the store to buy a TV of their own after seeing the magnificent beast in action at my house. What's stopping those ten friends from also expecting the store to give them the TV for "exposure"? When in this chain of Being Exposed does the store actually start to receive money for its products?
"If you're worried about making money, dude, you're in the wrong business. You should be doing this for the love of selling TVs."
As security escorted me off the premises, I could not help but wonder why a business model that is so successful at compensating the products of creative work – writing, comedy, music, art – could not also be applied to retail. I guess I just don't understand the Free Market.