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May 21, 2013

Perceived Value: Listen Local and the "pay what you want" model

May 21, 2013

boxism no. 8: listen local.When our friends at Indianapolis Parks and Recreation approached Musical Family Tree (MFT) about a locally-themed concert series in Broad Ripple Park this summer, I immediately got excited about the prospect of exposing some top-notch local music to a wider audience. As director of MFT, I'm constantly thinking about how to expand the reach of independent Indiana music, both in the local scene and in the larger community of underground musicians. It was kind of a no-brainer to name the series "Listen Local," one of our favorite boxisms which also happens to speak to the purpose of this concert series.

We tossed around a bunch of ideas about how to engage the Indianapolis community with these events, but it didn't take long for Jeb come up with the idea to make the shows "pay what you want," instead of following a traditional ticketing model or simply being free. This way, he figured, we can not only better market the entire series to people who express curiosity about the first show, we can also learn about the perceived value of this type of event. And on top of that, all profits from the series will be donated to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, which strives to help make Indianapolis's parks some of the best in the country.

After we decided to adopt this "pay what you want" idea, things began quickly falling into place for the Listen Local series. The Indy Food Truck Alliance and Upland Beer will be providing fine local grub and libations, and a number of community partners will be present to share information and host fun activities. My role at Musical Family Tree helped us secure some great local bands for the series, and budding art/design duo, BrainTwins, are poised to surprise and delight audiences of all ages with their visual work (including their beautiful flyer design for the first show, below). 

The ability to name one's own admission price seems to be attractive to the local community. So far, the reaction to the series has been overwhelmingly positive. There are lots of people purchasing advance tickets via eventbrite who have set their price at only a dollar or two, but there have been plenty of others who choose to pay ten dollars or more for their tickets. It's an interesting experiment, and it's gotten us thinking about the ways perception and value are intertwined.

During a recent check-in meeting about Listen Local, Jeb pondered what it would be like if SmallBox approached client work in the same way. What if we asked our clients how much they are willing to pay for our services? If our clients took the question as a sincere opportunity to express their perceptions about SmallBox's value, it would provide some crucial insight for our team. Shouldn't SmallBox and our clients have complete alignment around how much our work is worth? Wouldn't it point to a larger dysfunction if our clients were to grossly underestimate the value of what we do? Or would that just mean they don't want to spend much money, and if so, are they the right fit for our organization?

We could probably ask ourselves those questions endlessly, but what matters is that the "pay what you want" model has us thinking about the way human beings perceive value. Maybe this model could still work with a for-profit business and maybe it would be a huge disaster. The underlying truth is that anyone paying for a product or service should believe that the amount they are being asked to spend lines up with what they get in return.

So what do you think? How much do you think it's worth to attend a local-centric indie rock show in an attractive and serene outdoor setting? Will you pay only one time at the beginning of the series or will you continue to donate more at the other shows? Give us your answer by naming your own price for an advance ticket, or just come out on Friday to see what Listen Local is all about.

First up is Margot and the Nuclear So and So's with Gentleman Caller and Everything, Now! Check out MFT's show preview to learn more about those acts and the rest of the Listen Local series. Gates open at 6, music starts at 7 and the whole thing will be over around 10. Hope to see you there!


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