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Human nature

Bend over Time Warner, daddy's home.

Bend over Time Warner, daddy's home.

Some years ago, a country publican took ownership of a neglected rural hotel and, on his first day in charge, the front bar was once again overrun by a local drug dealer and his crew of hoons.

"10am, they were playing pool, feeding $20 into the jukebox. One bloke even got on the bar to dance. The thought they owned the joint," said the publican.

In a sense they did: the hotel had such a bad reputation, local mums and dads wouldn't walk into the place; it was dying. The dealer even told the publican, "This is our pub mate, we've got it just the way we like it."

"That's when I walked into the office, phoned the local hire company and told them 'Come pick up the pool tables and the juke box,'" said the publican.

The next day, the hoons appeared, saw their toys gone and guess what? They left, disgusted, never to return, and the publican's since opened a family-orientated restaurant serving 2500 meals a week.

He could have tried any number of approaches: persuasion, threats, police or barring the hoons might have had some impact, but the method he chose was simple and effective because of its understanding of human nature or at least the hoons' nature.

I always think of this story when I hear media experts opine about why people will pay for movies, music and news on the internet, when with one click of their finger they can get much the same content for free.

It goes against human nature: most of us will take the path of least resistance, and in monetary terms that means what we can get for free, a sizable cohort will not pay for.

If someone takes away our jukebox and pool table by making us sign up for convoluted monthly credit-card billing, most of us internet hoons will go elsewhere.

However, the thing many people in the media don't seem to understand is that "elsewhere" is changing with increasing velocity.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple said in April: "Two years after we shipped the initial iPad, we've sold 67 million. And to put that in some context, it took us 24 years to sell that many Macs and five years for that many iPods and over three years for that many iPhones."

Yet half the world seems to still be trying to work out how to make money from advertising via an internet viewed on computers, but it's too late - we're all moving to tablets and phones.

In five years' time, many pundits predict we won't even own laptops, let alone desktops, just juiced up iPads with mobiles replacing broadband completely.

And you think it's hard selling banner ads now? Try it when the screen's only 10 centimetres wide.

I don't mean to intimate the majority of news consumers are the virtual equivalent of drug dealers in a pub, but if you've spent any time online you'll know people just act differently to their real world selves when perched behind an ostensibly anonymous keyboard.

Citizens who would never dream of shoplifting, will quite happily illegally download music, software, films and TV shows so, as cynical as it sounds, perhaps we're wasting our time building business models based on an idealised vision of human nature.

If you've ever seen the TV show Mad Men, you might enjoy the book that inspired it, Jerry Della Femina's 1971 bestseller From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-line dispatches from the advertising war.

In it he tells the story of a cake mix an advertising company was asked to help promote – to which you just added water – although nothing they suggested could make it sell.

"They found out the average housewife hated the product because if she couldn't do something physical in the making of the cake, she felt she was being cheated. If all she had to do was add water, well, she felt she really was nowhere as a homemaker and a cook," writes Della Femina.

Instead of trying to change the buyer, they changed the product and let the housewife feel like she was still doing something.

The solution? They fixed it so you had to break an egg into the mix.

Makes me wonder what the egg's gonna be for media publishers?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

68 comments so far

  • The egg is irrelevant in a modern economy. Gone are the days where work (in this instance a homemaker) and careers are used as a way to fulfill a personal sense of identity, generating a sense of belonging and contributing to a society. Other ways are found to do that for people inclined. Cash and wealth are now king and the only currency needed when considering a career.

    The days of lifetime career one income families and mutual beneficial employee/employer relationships are gone. We live in a world of a casualised workforce where anyone can be retrenched any minute, where jobs are scarce and require degrees and unnecessary qualifications to get a foot in the door and living and housing costs are high. Only the strongest survive so any source of easy money or discount is seized upon as it is not easily given out.

    Human nature is consistent in that security and safety are paramount. The only way to achieve these are through having money. Money, especially after the GFC is incredibly hard to make and generate. The more that is generated for the least amount of effort the better. Especially when it can be gone in an instant. People will make hay while the sun shines.

    By kicking the druggies out the barman increased his profits. That is the only reason people bother with work. Poverty sucks. If work was unpaid nobody would bother working 50 hours in shit jobs. The days of pensions and the social contract are gone. Even unemployment payments will soon bite the dust. People are on their own. Money is vital for future security. The most efficient way to make it while keeping costs down is how any business operates. Hence the creative way of sourcing a free movie.

    Date and time
    June 28, 2012, 6:03PM
    • You are wrong: there are absurd amounts of money being made – just not adequately redistributed (via taxes). This survival of the fittest stuff is a convenient way of saying 'rape the world for everything because I'm the only one that matters.' This 'philosophy" caused the 'GFC'. It is absurd that you can have such a low level of responsibility for your society and expect [said] society to maintain itself to a level wherein it can support your individualistic ambitions. Society, the economy, and the natural environment are all eco-systems. The weak are as important as the strong and we have a duty of care. Humans just need to evolve to the point where we can stomach the idea of distributing the wealth more evenly. You are right in that this may be an impossible dream but the reality is that there IS plenty and only the corruption of the bankers and multi-nationals, who refuse to pay their dues prevent a more balanced and even society. They want you to think that wealth distribution is an unworkable theory; they don't want to pay tax. No single person needs or deserves to own Billions of dollars. Not while there are hungry children.
      And also – I will subscribe to the herald if Gina doesn't get a seat on the board. We need robust journalism.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 10:34AM
    • Sad, but true

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 12:39PM
    • @esmax Wealth distribution is unbelievably unequal. It sucks, leaves 1% greedy and rich and the rest poor. How do you propose it changes thou? Money is made privately for the most part. Those who own whatever resources set the price. A government can not tell a private business how to run itself. Governments and political parties are funded by these people. If they don't want to pay tax they won't.

      Do you really think Gina will provide robust journalism? She is buying a stake to push her own agenda. What the GFC has done is made unbelievably hard to make money or gain any business stability. Nobodys got a job for life.

      Also where did I say people deserve billions? I'm merely stating what the conditions are now. Unless you can generate income to live off or have a skill or asset to sell you are in trouble.

      The things we relied on in the past free health, education, pensions etc are being whittled down or are structurally broken. The costs of these things have risen. Money is needed to pay for these things.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 2:53PM
    • Sorry, but the idea that no one would work if we weren't paid is incorrect. Everyone. EVERYONE in my industry has spent years as a volunteer and continues to contribute beyond their salary or conditions of employment demand.

      Most people I know outside my work find ways of volunteering, so as to contribute something back to their societies.

      Can you please try not to repeat nonsense that might discourage civic minded behavour in others, even if it isn't your thing?

      far away
      Date and time
      July 01, 2012, 11:04PM
  • Yes yes, it was so much better in the old days, and the world is giong to hell and everyone will be iSheep in the future.

    The fact of the matter is, we're living in an age that's never been wealthier and never been more prosperous. And yet every day we hear doom and gloom. It's because, as you say it's human nature. True happiness is a utopian dream.

    People's happiness depends relativity. Chief of village s***hole? Happy. Millionaire with billionaire friends?Unhappy. Your prime minister/president didn't fix all problems and cure cancer? Unhappy. You think you can have a beer with him/her? Happy

    Date and time
    June 28, 2012, 7:24PM
    • I am sick of turkeys like you who say "we" have never been more prosperous. Who is "we", exactly ? I've never been worse off. I am 98% poorer than I was five years ago, and I am not the only one.

      If things are well for you, thats great, how about you say "I" have never been more prosperous. Speak for yourself, and keep your presumptuous "we" for the toilet where it belongs.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 12:40PM
    • Where did you get the 98%? Are you saying your net assets halved from five years ago? Your salary has halved from 5 years ago?

      I believe it's you that's judged your own situation to be tough and then projecting to everyone else. I'm talking macro economic terms. I'm talking median salary, net assets terms. We have never been wealthier or had a higher living standard than today, that's a fact.

      What's also a fact is that at no stage of human or even life history, has there not been a time when SOME are better off than OTHERS. There will always be poverty, there will always be the middle class, and there will always be an elite class. What does change is the proportion, and the context of the times. 100 years ago, living in poverty meant you might die from starvation. Today, living in poverty means something else entirely.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 1:21PM
    • @'enno' - Australia as a nation has never been more prosperous. Of course there will always be people who miss out on a boom, but we've had a very long one.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 1:41PM
    • I am saying that my net assets are 98% less than 5 years ago.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 8:28PM

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