Dan Bricklin's Web Site: www.bricklin.com
What will people pay for?
Regular people are willing to pay money to interact with people they care about.
You keep reading stories about how cellphones will be used for checking stock quotes and making trades, buying stuff, and other eCommerce. It seems business plans are based on people paying for such stuff. I think that eCommerce is not where things will go.

If you look at normal people's use of the Internet, cellphones, and other communications technologies that they pay for they are not driven by wanting to buy things or track their money. Unlike the kings in children's rhymes, most people don't "sit in their counting houses counting out their money." Most people don't buy and sell stocks so frequently and on such whim that they need to do it on a cellphone. "Oh, look! That trendy kid over there is wearing penny loafers! Quick, I must buy stock in a penny loafer company before it goes up this afternoon." Most people don't buy and sell many stocks at all. Some people do, but not this huge majority that will drive the "wireless Internet revolution".

Look at how regular people use cellphones, especially if the cost is low like it is in many countries outside the USA. Listen to cab drivers with their own cellphones, bus drivers, mothers, kids, etc. They mainly talk to their friends and loved ones for very personal, mundane things. "I finally left the office, but traffic is light", "Yes, I can pick up a pizza on the way home", "I've got a free minute and thought I'd say hi", "Did you find it yet?", "Where are you?", "No, I didn't do it, I thought you were going to do it", "Well, tell him Daddy says no, too", "What's up? Wanna do something tonight?", etc.

Look at what people do when they go to an Internet "cafe" when traveling and don't have their own access to the Internet. You don't find them surfing to buy things. They pay money to do email to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. A huge percentage of AOL usage is Instant Messaging. They pay to say hi, flirt, chitchat about their day, etc., especially with their "buddies".

People seated looking at computer screens
Internet cafe in Paris 1999

Also, people like interacting by giving little gifts to each other, saying "I remembered you and what you might like". They send postcards (mainly the paper kind but also the e-kind). They spend a large amount of their valuable vacation time buying "I remembered you" gifts. They love spending money on friends and loved ones at special times like Christmas. ("It's better to give than to receive.") They forward jokes they've heard/read to people they care about.

People like to interact with people they care about. The interactions are often simple, but personally important. They are willing to pay money for this. That's why they pay for cellphones, for Internet access, and for postcards and postage, and for souvenirs. It gives them emotional satisfaction. They pay money to travel to visit family and friends.

I get an image in my head when I see people on the street having these simple interactions on the phone. It's that image of primates sitting next to each other grooming one another. Simple, kind interactions with the ones close to us are innate.

People also pay money for other forms of emotion that aren't through other people directly: listening to music, watching movies (usually with other people -- doing it alone with TV they won't pay for), seeing something beautiful or interesting.

Buying isn't fun. Shopping is. Shopping is looking at things and imagining owning them or wearing them or using them. Shopping is looking for "just the right thing" out of many possibilities. Shopping is often around or with other people. People pay money to shop in interesting places, even if they don't buy much: Traveling to New York City to walk down 5th Avenue and look in at Tiffany's, Steuben Glass (until they moved), and FAO Schwartz; going to Italy to look at the stores with the designer clothes; buffets; etc.

So, people will pay money for things that give them emotional satisfaction, especially those things that involve interacting with others, or have a high emotion content, like music.
 - July 11, 2000

I found an interesting article that is well researched (with numbers, etc.) that shows how communications (especially for social reasons) commands more money than professionally produced content. Read "Content is Not King" by Andrew Odlyzko of AT&T Labs that appeared on First Monday. An example from the Introduction:

Content certainly has all the glamor. What content does not have is money. ...The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those "commodity pipelines" attract much more spending than the glamorous "content."

- May 10, 2001

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