Thoughts on ‘opportunity cost’ in design and marketing.
Dan Sharp

Let’s Not Overlook Anything Valuable

I really love plants. The first thing that I did when I moved into my house was dig up the front lawn and replace it with a wide variety of super interesting drought tolerant plants. From my perspective, the opportunity cost of the lawn was way too high.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. I was designing the yard for myself… not for others. To design for others requires that you know the trade-offs that they would truly be willing to make. But, since you’re not a mind-reader, you can only have this information if they give it to you.

Let’s consider the New Yorker (NY) homepage. Superficially speaking, the design isn’t unpleasant. It’s easy on the eyes. But as far as substance goes, well, the NY isn’t a mind-reader.

Most of the articles on the NY homepage are the newest ones. Well duh. But… what are the chances that they are the most valuable ones? The NY would be pretty amazing if each new article was more valuable than the last one! I’m pretty sure that this is not the case though.

So imagine if each and every subscriber could use their fees to signal the value of an article. I think the fee is something like $1/week. If I was a subscriber, then each week I’d have the chance to allocate my $1 dollar to 1 NY article. I’d only have $1 dollar but the NY has a gazillion articles! My money would be very limited but the options would be nearly unlimited. Yup… opportunity cost.

With all the subscribers considering the opportunity costs and using their fees to inform the NY… and each other… of the value of the articles… the NY would essentially be transformed into a market. The Invisible Hand is all about people using their money to bring valuable things to each other’s attention.

Once the actual value of the articles is known, the NY could simply put the most valuable ones on their homepage. Readers could filter the list to see the most valuable articles that had been published in the past week, month, year or all time. Maybe they could also filter the list by topic.

It’s the difference between my space and our space. I know my preferences so I can certainly maximize the value of my space. But in order to maximize the value of our space, each and every member needs to be able to use their money to communicate what their preferences are.