My Dad’s family business – the only company in the world to make hand-embroidered tapestries for the international market – liquidated around 1970. It was just about the time I might have gone into the family firm but for my father the closure was a relief; as Financial Director he’d foreseen the beginning of the end – the Equal Pay Act – a number of years earlier.
The tapestries were high quality and hand-crafted and, even before equal pay, labour costs were high. The women weavers and embroiderers, 90% of the workforce, were highly trained and the work was labour-intensive. The tapestries had to sell for increasingly high prices and people preferred to spend their money on fast cars and big houses.
And when people did buy these works of art, I remember my Dad saying “they’re more interested in telling their friends how much they paid for the tapestry than valuing the quality of the work”.
Fast-forward 45 years and I haven’t a clue about the true value of even the most basic commodity – milk. I pay twice as much for a pint at my local shop compared with our edge-of-town supermarket. I may be stupid but I’d prefer to support the shop at the end of my road while it’s still there (and while I can afford to) rather than line the coffers of the superstore with a strap-line that says ‘very little helps’ …or something like that.
And what about books? I spent 15 years in publishing and left the industry just as the Net Book Agreement – which set a book’s price across all outlets – was withdrawn. Now the price of a book seems to have no relation to its length or format. Nor, of course, does price relate to the thing we value most – the quality of the contents. The industry now seems to treat books as just another commodity, priced at what the market (that’s you and me) will bear.
Personally, I don’t see books as a commodity, but then maybe I’m out of step with current trends (I’ve shunned an e-reader in favour of ‘the real thing’ and will do so as long as my eyesight and bookshelf space allows). And it also matters to me that my online book-buying supports high street bookshops, so I use www.hive.co.uk.
With the explosion of £ shops (I’ve even seen a 95p store), Black Friday, all-year-round sales, and 2-for-1 meal deals, I don’t know what I should be paying for even the most basic items, not just milk and books. But I like the idea of restaurants inviting diners to pay what they think their meal is worth…
Until I get too old to make my own decisions, I aim to pay a fair price for what I value – stuff that’s good quality, where possible is locally-sourced and ethically-produced, and that doesn’t screw someone in the supply chain.
This is not easy, I know. But most of us can choose how and where we spend our money. Maybe we should spend more time doing so?
For an interesting insight into the buying process, go to http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/most-of-all-money-is-a-story.html
A useful and all-embracing list of pricing strategies is at http://bit.ly/1moB0lR