The Power of Scarcity


A recent article suggested that to be successful, writers should go beyond the regular (genre) schedule of one book a year and write two or even four. James Patterson (and his assistants) produces twelve. It seems to have worked well for Patterson but one wonders if, like a kid in a candy store, readers may eventually grow sated.

Our entire culture has become oriented toward speed. Like teenagers who chug beer in a desperate rush to get from sober to drunk in as short a time as possible, a lot of people seem to be addicted to instant and complete consumption. Watch the frustration of people’s face – no matter what their age – if their computer or smart phone doesn’t instantly start up or can’t quickly find a connection. We want and we want now. Waiting is unacceptable. Just ask George Martin.

Yet, it seems that scarcity continues to hold sway over our deeper desires. Nothing inflames us more than to be told we can’t have something now – but we might have it later. And for some artists scarcity has led to massive success.

Take Adele. Her first album appeared six years ago and it was two more before his second showed up. The latest gap is four years. Both of her previous records went to the top of the Billboard 100 and stayed there for weeks or months. She now has two of the most successful recordings ever. Her world tour – the first in years – sold out in a day or two. Adele has made herself scarce – and with her undeniable talent made that scarcity hurt – and as a result may become one of the most successful pop acts ever.

Recently, a friend of mine told me that he has taken to pausing between bites of food. He pointed out that by savouring each bite and then letting the flavour fade, he experiences the same pleasure when he takes the second bite as he did with the first.  As someone who tends to wolf down a chocolate bar as soon as it is unwrapped, I decided to try this theory out. And it works – each bite of chocolate, with delays of a minute or more, is as delightful as the first. What used to be the equivalent of chugging a beer has now become a leisurely exploration in taste and pleasure.

Of course, to slowly consume anything – in a society that seems to admire mass and massive consumption at lightning speed – requires a certain mindfulness, a deliberate decision to exercise self-denial.

I have another example. I only saw the new Star Wars movie last night. I had to force myself to listen to the moans of pleasure from my fellow fans while avoiding all serious mentions of what the film was like. I have a feeling that I enjoyed it more than if I had been the first one in the theatre.

Economists have always known about the power of scarcity to drive up the value – or at least the price – of any desired good. Maybe they’re on to something. I wonder if more people would read this blog if I only wrote it once a week or a month instead of every day.

And that’s ten minutes.


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