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Pay what you want

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Title: Pay what you want  
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Subject: Humble Bundle, Donationware, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bicycle cooperative, Playism
Collection: Economic Systems, Pricing
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Pay what you want

Pay what you want (or PWYW) is a pricing strategy where buyers pay any desired amount for a given commodity, sometimes including zero. In some cases, a minimum (floor) price may be set, and/or a suggested price may be indicated as guidance for the buyer. The buyer can also select an amount higher than the standard price for the commodity.[1][2]


  • Motivation 1
  • History and commercial uses 2
  • Research 3
  • Enhanced forms 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Giving buyers the freedom to pay what they want can be very successful in some situations, because it eliminates many disadvantages of conventional pricing. Buyers are attracted by permission to pay whatever they want, for reasons that include eliminating fear of whether a product is worth a given set price and the related risk of disappointment (“buyer's remorse”). For sellers it obviates the challenging and sometimes costly task of setting the “right” price (which may vary for different market segments). For both, it changes an adversarial conflict into a friendly exchange, and addresses the fact that value perceptions and price sensitivities can vary widely among buyers.[2] While most uses of PWYW have been at the margins of the economy, or for special promotions, there are emerging efforts to expand its utility to broader and more regular use. (see "Enhanced forms", below.)

Further reasons for sellers implementing PWYW pricing includes price discrimination and market penetration. Price discrimination occurs as a result of buyers with higher valuations of the product choosing to pay a higher price. Thus, price discrimination could result in higher revenues for the seller if costs are sufficiently low. PWYW is also an effective tool for penetrating a new market, perhaps to introduce a new brand, as even consumers with a very low valuation can pay small amounts for the same product. [3]

Other names include "pay what you wish", "pay what you like", "pay as you want", "pay what you feel", "pay as you wish", "pay as you like", "pay what you will", and "pay as you will". "Pay what you can" is sometimes used synonymously, but is often more oriented to charity or social uses, based more on ability to pay, while PWYW is often more broadly oriented to perceived value in combination with willingness and ability to pay.

History and commercial uses

PWYW has long existed on the margins of the economy, such as for tips and street performers, as well as charities, and has been gaining breadth of interest.

  • Contemporary Christian music artist Keith Green implemented a similar structure for his album So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt. The album, available solely through Green's Last Days Ministries, was offered on mail-order coupon. A purchaser would send the coupon, along with the chosen purchase price (if any), to obtain the album.
  • One of the earliest known "Pay What Your Heart Feels" initiative was started in 1984 at Annalakshmi Restaurant at Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, inspired by Swami Shantananda Saraswati.[4] This concept soon spread to some of the Annalakshmi restaurants located in other cities too.[4]
  • Theaters began using it for selected nights.[2]
  • Use by restaurants has been spreading since the opening of One World Everybody Eats, in 2003 in Salt Lake City.[5] The restaurant is now owned by a nonprofit group that requires customers pay at least $4 for their entree.
  • Freeware applications are frequently distributed under donationware that prompts the user to donate to the author rather than paying for the software, as opposed to the Shareware model.
  • A major boost in awareness occurred in October 2007, when Radiohead released their seventh album, In Rainbows, through the band's website as a digital download using this pricing system.[6]
  • In December 2007, punk/metal record label Moshpit Tragedy Records became the first to operate fully under the PWYW download system.[7]
  • In 2008, Wheatus moved to the system for all their future albums and old albums they owned the rights to, it is now their primary method of distribution.
  • In fall 2009, actor Jeremy Lelliott founded Coeurage Theatre Company, the first entirely PWYW theatre company on the West Coast, to assure that "the cost of a ticket would never prevent anyone from seeing high quality theatre in Los Angeles."
  • Koo Koo Kanga Roo, a comedy kids/hip hop duo, release all of their recorded music under this system. The group has referred to themselves strictly as a live band, and thus give away their music solely so as many people as possible can hear it and be able to sing and dance along with it at their performances.
  • In 2010, Panera Bread bakery used the system in a St. Louis, Missouri suburb, and has generated further attention by opening more since.[1]
  • Introduced during May 2010, the Humble Indie Bundle was a set of six independently developed digitally downloadable video games which were distributed using a PWYW model (with inclusion of a buyer-controllable charitable contribution). At the end of the sale, $1.27 million had been raised. They have since done over twenty more bundle sales, generating a total of over $19 million in revenues, and securing in April 2011 an investment of $4.7 million by Sequoia Capital.
  • In late 2012, McPixel had a PWYW weekend, in partnership with The Pirate Bay, as the creator Mikolaj Kaminski wanted people to try his game as a reason to buy it.
  • Canonical implemented this system on Ubuntu download page. Their message varies, but usually asks to "Show Ubuntu some love. Or, alternatively, help out in the bug tracker ;)". One can adjust the sum they wish to contribute for each development initiative from $0 to $125. Alternatively, there is an option to skip the payment and go straight to download of selected OS type.
  • The creators of Aiutico Postcards project leave the amount of the contribution upon users' decision. A handmade postcard could be ordered from the web-site and the contribution amount is transferred to a charity and creators.
  • In 2013, offered their customers the PWYW option. CEO Mike Faith noted almost all the company's customers paid full price, with only 10% opting to pay less, saying "Just as money-back guarantees were considered over-generous and dangerous when they were first introduced, they are almost a standard nowadays. There is no reason that trust-based pricing shouldn’t become a norm over the next decade."[8]
  • In early 2014 a technical support company, called MyHelpster, launched PWYW. Customers could indicate the price they wanted to pay, with the help of a dynamic slider on their website. PWYW served as a trust building tool, and to raise industry awareness.[9]


With the prominence of the Radiohead experiment, economics and business researchers began a flurry of studies, with particular attention to the behavioral economic aspects of PWYW—what motivates buyers to pay more than zero, and how can sellers structure the process to obtain desirable pricing levels? One early such study (possibly the first) was the one done by Kim et al. in January 2009.[10]

In a large scale experiment conducted in a large amusement park, [11]

Another PWYW experiment looked at determinants for the price chosen by consumers of the application iProduct, which provided tutorials and lessons for potential application developers on the App Store (iOS). The application was offered as free with in-app purchases, including a gratuity mechanism that allowed users to pay/donate what they wanted for the projects included in the app. The study tested the significance of four determinants in deciding the PWYW price paid by consumers: fairness (proper compensation to the seller), loyalty to the seller, price consciousness (focus on paying a low price), and usage (how much the consumer will use the product). The study found that price consciousness negatively influenced the price paid, while usage and loyalty positively influenced the price paid for the product. Fairness was found to have no significant effect. [12]

Further research focused on the long-term perspective of pay what you want. A study conducted by researchers of the Ruhr-University of Bochum examines repeated transactions in a pay what you want environment. By using latent growth modeling they find that the average prices paid decrease significantly; yet the decrease of prices paid declines with every transactions. They further show, that customers' preference for fairness and price conscientiousness influence the steepness of the individual price curves .[13]

Enhanced forms

Efforts have been made to expand on the benefits of PWYW, to make it more useful and profitable to sellers, while maintaining its inherent appeal to buyers. One such enhancement is reflected in the Humble Indie Bundle, which has added a buyer-directed charity component to further increase buyer willingness to pay. This is similar to the research study noted above.[14]

Humble bundle also encourages buyers to "beat the average" by adding additional content for customers paying more than the current average purchase price.

Another enhancement is an expanded process, called Fair PWYW (FairPay), which shifts the scope from a single transaction view, to an ongoing relationship over a series of transactions. It adds tracking of individual buyers' reputations for paying fairly (as assessed by the seller), and uses that reputation data to let the seller determine what further offers to extend to that individual buyer. In that way it seeks to incentivize fair pricing by buyers (to maintain a good reputation, and thus be eligible for future offers), and to enable sellers to limit their risk on each transaction in accord with the buyer's reputation.[15] The FairPay architecture and how it builds on modern pricing strategy has been outlined on the Harvard Business Review Blog.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b Strom, Stephanie; Gay, Malcolm (May 20, 2010). "Pay-What-You-Want Has Patrons Perplexed".  
  2. ^ a b c Smart Pricing, Chapter 1. "Pay As You Wish" Pricing, Raju and Zhang, Wharton School Publishing, 2010. ISBN 0-13-149418-X.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ "Restaurant depends on kindness of strangers".  
  6. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (October 1, 2007). "Radiohead Says: Pay What You Want".  
  7. ^ About Moshpit Tragedy Records Retrieved 2012-02-03
  9. ^
  10. ^ JY Kim, M Natter, M Spann (January 2009). "Pay what you want: a new participative pricing mechanism". Journal of Marketing 73 (1): 44–58.  
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ LM Schons, M Rese, J Wieseke, W Rasmussen, D Weber, W Strotmann (2014). "There is nothing permanent except change—analyzing individual price dynamics in "pay-what-you-want" situations". Marketing Letters 25 (1): 25–36.  
  14. ^ A Gneezy, U Gneezy, LD Nelson, A. Brown (July 2010). "Shared Social Responsibility: A Field Experiment in Pay-What-You-Want Pricing and Charitable Giving". Science 329 (5989): 325–327.  
  15. ^ Better Revenue Models: Pay What You Want – Not Crazy After All These Years? Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  16. ^ When Selling Digital Content, Let the Customer Set the Price Retrieved 2013-11-22.

External links

  • Pay-as-you-wish at Freakonomics
  • Pay-What-You-Want for Musicians at Techdirt
  • Shared Social Responsibility: A Field Experiment in Pay-What-You-Want Pricing and Charitable GIving at
  • Postcards with no price tags
  • When Selling Digital Content, Let the Customer Set the Price at Harvard Business Review
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