Charging Money

Food for Thought

I had a sandwich for dinner at Tompkins Square Park with Robert. He is retired but still publishes a print magazine. Because it costs money to print, he has to charge people to read it. He doesn’t make money from it; it just covers the printing cost. I publish my writing on the web so people can read it for free. I don’t make money from it either.

A friend once told me you shouldn’t give away anything on Craig’s List. Even if you are happy to have someone take your old couch away for free, you should charge a nominal amount, like ten dollars. Otherwise, the person might not take the agreement seriously and not show up. The same is true for a gym membership; you are more likely to stop going if it’s free.

I think this is true for reading as well. You are likelier to read a book if you pay for it. In terms of the number of readers, I get far more than Robert does, but in terms of the quality of readers, I’m sure his is much higher. I don’t think anyone would be willing to pay even a dollar to access my site.

Money is often vilified, but it has the power to reveal certain truths. If you offer your services for free, the recipients would, of course, appreciate and treat you with respect. In a way, you are buying respect and admiration with your labor. If you asked for money, you’d know the truth about how much your service is actually worth to them. Your ego might deflate, but which is better?

Anyone can buy respect and admiration with money or labor if they can afford it, but if you want to know whether society truly values what you offer, you have to charge. This is also true on the receiving end. Do you appreciate what someone offers because it’s free or because it’s actually valuable to you? To find out, ask yourself if you are willing to pay for it. If yes, why not pay? It would be better for you also because you’d take it more seriously, like a gym membership.

If you have low self-esteem, it’s tempting to offer your services for free to receive respect and admiration to boost it, but you’d end up in a self-delusional bubble that would burst as soon as you ask for money. From this perspective, charging money is not egotistical; it’s a way to be humble.