A central idea in revenue maximizing pricing is price discrimination- try to get more money out of the people who are willing to pay more. On this topic alone, tomes have been written, careers and fortunes made, court cases filed, more fortunes lost and so on. However, price discrimination needn’t just be about making more money. If the people who want to pay more are the same as the people who value the good more, the resulting allocation is societally efficient. Two obvious ways it goes wrong: i) people who value a good more might not have the money to pay for it, and ii) using money can seem, well, grubby.
So we do all sorts of second best things- e.g. get people to stand in line for concert tickets. That way the fans who really want to see the concert are the fans who’ll probably stand in line. If time is money, then it’s resulted in a loss to them, but somehow this seems societally better. And there’s the resale problem – people who don’t care for tickets, but have no value for time, will stand in line and later scalp the tickets to people who do care and are short on time.
So how do you get around this, at least a bit, without using money? The geniuses at Google gave us a new answer during the launch of their Chromebook laptop. The laptop, and they’re looking for a few thousand people to test it before commercial launch later in the year. How do you make sure the people who get it are people who want it/ will use it, without charging them?
So first, when they launched it, they put out this promo video.
Seems rather innocuous, but then look closely at the 2:23 mark of the video. There’re some equations on the greenboard in the background. Turns out if you solve them, and find the value of x, it’s a long string of 1s and 0s. Do some more code solving, and you get the URL http://www.goo.gl/speedanddestory . It’s a secret URL to a secret form. First person to fill it out got the laptop…