Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Opportunity Cost

Joshua Gans alerts me to a minor brouhaha over Neil Gaiman (a fantasy and science fiction writer) charging a library $45,000 to give a talk.  Mr Gaiman apparently understands the concept of opportunity cost (principles number 2 in my favorite textbook).  Here is how he explains his fees at his website.
Q. How can I get Neil Gaiman to make an appearance at my school/convention/event?
A. Contact Lisa Bransdorf at the Greater Talent Network. Tell her you want Neil to appear somewhere. Have her tell you how much it costs. Have her say it again in case you misheard it the first time. Tell her you could get Bill Clinton for that money. Have her tell you that you couldn't even get ten minutes of Bill Clinton for that money but it's true, he's not cheap.
On the other hand, I'm really busy, and I ought to be writing, so pricing appearances somewhere between ridiculously high and obscenely high helps to discourage most of the people who want me to come and talk to them. Which I could make a full time profession, if I didn't say 'no' a lot.
I appreciate Mr Gaiman's logic completely. For much the same reason, I say "no thanks" to over 95 percent of speaking invitations I receive. Occasionally, I quote a speaking fee based on my opportunity cost, which is partly a function of travel time to the venue (I hate airplanes). Once in a while, this strategy yields a lucrative speaking gig. But I fear that even quoting a price may seem like an insult to the person extending the invitation, so I usually just turn down speaking requests from the get-go.