How much would you pay to see a new movie?
We make that decision all the time. Pay $10 to see it at the theater? Pay $5 to see it on-demand? Pay $1 a night when the DVD comes to Redbox?
Now that question will be put to a real-life test for next week’s advance screenings of “Freakonomics: the Movie,” based on the best-selling 2005 book.
The “sneak preview” screenings in 10 cities Wednesday will be offered on a pay-what-you-want basis, with tickets being offered at 40 different price points, from a penny all the way up to $100.
To buy a ticket, you first have to complete a survey on how much you intend to pay. The anonymous data will be analyzed by “Freakonomics” authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt “to identify what factors and circumstances prompt movie-goers to pay more or less for their screening tickets.”
The gambit is a variation on pay-what-you-want music published by bands like Radiohead, or the honor-system bagel service that served as an introductory lesson in economic behavior in "Freakonomics."
In the case of the movie, it seems unlikely that many viewers will choose to pay the full retail price for a ticket, much less $100. It’s a classic case of asymmetrical information: With no reviews or even word of mouth available, there is no way to guess whether this movie will be any good. That is one reason sneak preview tickets often are given away for free.
But the little experiment could help build buzz for the film, which opens nationwide Oct. 1. And in a media-saturated world, that’s priceless.