The weekly newspaper Real Change provides an outlet for hundreds of people who are low-income and homeless to make money and hold a steady job. On Wednesday, the paper doubled its price from $1 to $2.
This is the first increase in 19 years and it will mean more money for sellers like Susan Ford. She greets busy students with a hearty “Good morning!” as they bustle into University Bookstore near the University of Washington.
Ford has been doing this since 2006. The vendors buy the paper to re-sell. Before the price increase Ford bought each paper for 35 cents and sold it for $1. Now she has to buy a paper for 60 cents and sell it for $2. As long as people keep on buying the paper, Ford’s profit will more than double. She senses support from customers about the new price. “One guy said he’ll only buy it twice a month now. Hey, at least he’s still going to buy it," she said.
Among her Wednesday customers is Tom Ebrey. Just like the rest, Ford throws him a huge grin as he hands her $2, “Hey! See now? You remembered it went up! Have a good day!” said Ford.
Ebrey said he tries to buy the paper every week to support the sellers. And $2? Not really a problem. “It’s not that much money in the whole scheme of the world,” he says.
Ebrey’s relaxed view of the new price fits right into economic theory.
Matthew Isaac is an assistant professor at Seattle University who studies the psychology of buying. “The hardest decision is whether to pull out that wallet or purse at all," he says. "When people do, it’s probably not going to make that much difference whether it’s $1 or $2."
Isaac says it’s clear this theory wouldn’t work on other products, like ones with more competition and less altruistic goals. He says people are buying the paper not just for its content but also for the satisfaction of helping the vendors out. That’s why he thinks the price increase will be a success.
As for Ford, she’s not worried. “In the long run, it’s going to benefit us. We’ll put a little more money in our pockets and that’s nice.”
She said she loves the job. To her, it feels like she’s helping the public get a fresh view of homelessness. “It’s not a bunch of people who don’t want to do anything, people who are drunks and alcoholics. They see our positive attitude and see us out here selling something worthwhile and not begging.”
She also explained the job has helped her quite a bit. “You get to the point where you’re feeling sorry for yourself and feel like you’re not really a part of anything. It’s built my confidence, made me feel like I’m actually a person and I can do whatever I want if I set my mind to it.”
Now, that includes selling 300 papers every month at $2 a pop instead of $1.