Thursday, September 25, 2008

Writing about the Kabuki Theater and their completely worthwhile $2.00 "amenities" charge reminded me of a list I once made of the world's best bargains. It was a pretty short list, containing only two items, but the list impressed me anyway. It's a little dated now, but in the interest of blogging every thought that ever entered my puny brain...

As of 1990, the 2 best bargains I knew of were:

1) A newspaper

For 25 cents (I think that was the price), you could buy a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle or (any similar city newspaper). That would get you local news, stock listings, comics, weather, classifieds, features, editorials, and most astonishingly: articles about the rest of the U.S. and the world. Somehow, for a quarter, they were delivering news from the far flung corners of the earth. This was mind-boggling to me. It seemed like it should cost more than a quarter just to move all that paper and ink from place to place, so once you add in the cost of actually employing humans to write, photograph, and edit the news, it just seemed unfathomable that this would only cost 25 cents.

Is this still a great bargain in 2008? The Chronicle costs 75 cents now, and I can get most of the articles free online, but given it's still pretty damn impressive that I can buy a big hunk of paper for less than a buck and get all that content.

2) First class mail

It is unbelievable to me that I can pay the postal service 42 cents for them to pick up an envelope from my house in San Francisco, drive it to their big mail-o-matic sorter, fly it across the country, drive it down some podunk country road in Vermont, and hand deliver it to the house of my choice. Astonishing! I mean, I hand you two quarters to physically move something to Alaska or Hawaii, and I even get some change back? That's totally ridiculous.

In 2008, I have much less need to do this sort of thing, given that I can basically email someone anywhere on the planet for free, but it's still amazing that I can get a document hand delivered for dozens of cents.

Does anything else belong on this list? I'm inclined to leave internet-based services off the list because:

1) We still pay for Internet access
2) When almost all websites are free, it's hard to be amazed by any one site's value
3) Many of the free sites are simply biding their time until they figure out how to make money off you (e.g. my company). They're not sustainable.

That's what I got today.

2 comments:

Meg said...

I really appreciate free podcasts. I know a lot of podcasters and none of us do it for the money and have turned down large sponsors because then we'd lose freedom. I love The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, NPR Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Hardcore History (sadly, not what you might imagine).

For my inner sewing nerd, I adore burdastyle.com, which is a community driven open source pattern company. They are backed by a large company, so they can afford to do this at no cost. This is unheard of in the sewing community.

Archive.org is a treasure trove for me too. Free old movies, songs and pictures. Although you need access to the internet to get these things, which you can get at the library.

Hey, the LIBRARY! Where you can get books, DVD's and CD's for free! We love the books on CD's for the kids. Hey that's a good deal too! Free books. You can order them online and have them delivered if you live in Walnut Creek :)

Meg

Mike said...

Meg, you listed all free things. I can't compute how good of a bargain they are because I'm getting a Divide By Zero error, but since you're the only comment here, your list is the best one. :)