That’s part of what I’m actually aiming to discern.  I’ll explain:

The City Cafe Bakery Model

In town, we have a bakery with several branches called City Cafe Bakery. Their cheese buns, croissants and pizza slices are sizable and delicious.

But, the key point of relevance here is that they don’t have a dedicated cashier. Or really a register per se. They have prices posted (tax included). You help yourself, and then toss your money into a box like the old fare boxes on buses (which is what I actually suspect it might be). And you leave. If you don’t have enough money on you (it’s cash only), then should you mention it to one of the people in the open-concept kitchen area, they’ll shrug and say “No problem. Just pay next time.”

Now this isn’t just to regulars, mind. They tell anyone who comes, who doesn’t have the money to pay for their stuff at that moment, that they can pay for it some other time. They’ve been doing this for years. And according to them, people rarely take advantage.

This happened to us recently: my husband went to buy some food for a meeting, and found he was short of cash. We definitely don’t have regular status–we go sometimes, but not often enough to be known to them. And they told him he could take the food and pay some other time. He told me, and so the next time I was passing by, I paid (I also bought more food, but that’s an aside. I don’t think that’s why they do it–the expectation was more that the next time one of us was there to buy food, we should pay.).

It was interesting, because when my husband told me he had been short, and they told him it was fine, and he should pay next time, I felt somehow touched by that trust, and anxious to ensure that we did not violate it. So I went and paid, even though I wasn’t actually planning to get food–I just happened to be stopping in the area.

That incident got me thinking: would this work the same way with a book, available for download, with the option to pay at basically any point in the transaction? In my case, it’s slightly different, because with the bakery of course, there’s the expectation that you pay at some point–it’s not contingent on liking or valuing the food that they make, whereas I’m suggesting that you pay if you like or simply value the creation.

But it’s a similar idea. I will trust you to pay if you liked it. I can’t do much if you don’t, and I’m interested in seeing what people will do with that trust.

Will they rely on anonymity in order to avoid paying in a kind of “free rider” scenario? I mean, I won’t know if you downloaded it, and assuming that at least one person pays, I won’t know who it was, unless the person who pays produces a receipt or something (unlikely).

Or will they take the act of trust seriously, and pay at some point–possibly up front or early on, if they feel the existence of the book is valuable in itself; later, if they’ve decided to reserve judgment and end up liking the book during or after reading it, or just conclude that while it’s not for them, they have come to value the work, research, creativity etc. that went into it?

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