The Sunday circular

The “freestanding insert” was a multi-billion dollar business. Printed in bulk, then handed over to newspapers that would insert it into their Sunday paper, it was filled with coupons. In fact, the coupons were the entire point.

And the coupons worked.

They worked for two reasons:

  1. It gave big companies a chance to treat different people differently. If a consumer cared about saving money more than time or hassle, they could clip the coupons, bring them to the store and pay a different price than people who couldn’t be bothered. In essence, there were two prices for these products, based on how much the consumer wanted to spend and how they chose to allocate their time.
  2. Clipping the coupons, which began as an economic choice, became an identity and a hobby. The people who got really into it actually found happiness and esteem in the game. And it was a game.

As commerce moves online. the activities are changing, the middlemen are as well, but the two pillars remain. Priceline was a pioneer in this, giving travel shoppers a way to sign up for hassle, inconvenience and insecurity (you didn’t know which airline until after you bought your ticket) as a way to signal to airlines that they cared a great deal about price.

Mark Fraunfelder brings us this 200-year-old quote:

“Money is the best bait to fish for man with.” — Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia (1732)

I’m not sure that’s true. I think our story about money ends up being even more important.

[PS I just subscribed to Mark’s brand new newsletter. He’s been writing for and with the net forever, and I’m excited about Magnet. It’s not free, which is another story about money worth exploring.]