A valuable lesson in economics

This is one of my infrequent personal stories, feel free to skip.

When I was 12 or so I wanted to buy a 35 mm camera. My parents told me I’d have to earn money to pay for half of it and at that age a paper route was the only legal means of doing so. We got Newsday “Long Island’s Picture Newspaper” and our paperboy was getting too old for that. A few short conversations later I took over for him.

Our paperboy, it would turn out, was in possession of knowledge I was not. Within two weeks of my starting, the price per week went from 30 cents to 60 cents. Yes, each paper was now going to be a dime instead of a nickle (it was 1969 or so). Within a week of that price increase almost half my customers dropped the paper. My income, which was based entirely on tips, was cut by even more as many of those who kept it punished me by cutting back on their gratuity. I was devastated.

But I still had customers and I kept going. As it turned out, almost all of those customers eventually came back. At the time Newsday competed with The Long Island Post as the afternoon paper and as their byline said, they had a lot of pictures in every edition. People just liked it better and that helped a lot. Even better, signing up those returning customers allowed me to win prizes for new subscriptions. It almost made up for the lowered tip income (which lasted much longer). And I learned a valuable lesson in elasticity of demand, which I didn’t realize I had learned until I was in college.

I did buy that camera, a Nikkormat FTN by Nikon, and it served me well in the photo club in high school. I used it to take the last photos of my mom before she passed away. I still have it and it still works.

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