Monday, July 25, 2011

Upward-Sloping Demand Curves for Classical Music Concerts

There are some instances in life where your demand curve slopes upwards - the higher the price, the more you want to buy. Even where this occurs, it is of course a local effect - you may buy fewer Louis Vuitton handbags if the general price were $5 instead of $500, but you'd surely buy ever fewer if the price were $500,000. So the usual caveats apply.

But one case where this happens to me is classical music concerts.

To me, the absolute worst price that can be set for such an event is $0, especially for any event held outdoors.

Outdoor concerts evoke a picnic-type atmosphere. Wouldn't it be lovely if we got some wine and cheese and sat on a rug and listened to classical music. The easier-listening the better! It's a triple-header of Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, Pachelbel's Canon and Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons'? That sounds perfect!

Now, this is actually fine, as it goes. Classical music is like poetry - given it's rarefied enough, there's no need to ramp up the snobbery.

But what I can't stand is that this kind of event attracts people who want to use the occasion of a concert with real-life musicians as if it were a CD on in the background - merely an aid to conversation.

This is infuriating on at least two levels.

Firstly, it shows a great disrespect to the performers, who can see and hear you nattering away to your friends about how lovely the Napa valley was last weekend.

More importantly, it's incredibly annoying to everyone around you who is then faced with the difficult task of trying to filter out your conversational drivel and focus on enjoying the music. To me, at least, this is nigh on impossible. It's like trying to not listen to a screaming child. The people involved yabber away, usually oblivious to the fact that they're imposing a huge negative externality on lots of people around them. But it's not just obliviousness that drives it. I've even seen people get angsty when other good citizens finally tire of it and tell them to shush. They'll often start up again within a few minutes, daring you to call them out twice (which, of course, will work no better the second time than the first).

Free concerts are the worst, because when you shift your price from $10 per person to $0 per person, the marginal change in audience members is those whose willingness to pay was necessarily in single digits. These bogans are amongst the most likely to have no sense of propriety or consideration for people who want to actually listen to the music. Some of them will be fine, but it doesn't take many loud-talking losers to spoil the pool for everyone.

From long, sad experience, I now avoid any outdoor classical concerts at all. I prefer to have tickets costing at least $40 per person, and events held in big sombre concert halls which attract regular orchestra patrons.

The difference in my utility is much, much more than $40.

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