For example, consider Amazon Hub Lockers, order pick-up boxes usually located in 3rd party retail venues such as drug/convenience stores, etc. Amazon benefits by reducing last mile delivery costs and expanding its customer base beyond those already having safe delivery locations, all without paying for dedicated locker space. The retail venues benefit from the incremental sales accompanying increased foot traffic. Depending on the relative value of these benefits, competing options available to the parties, etc. it seems reasonable that the net cash exchange could go in either direction.

This same scenario exists (at least hypothetically) for music licensing. A well-known artist knows that a film, Youtube video, etc. will benefit from use of her song, and she doesn't benefit much from the incremental exposure (or might even be hurt by overexposure). So, she can demand a significant fee for the song's use. On the other hand, a relatively unknown artist might rationally pay a film's producers to include her song due to the much needed exposure provided.

The transfer of ownership of large goods like boats also falls into this category. The owner of a desirable boat will be paid by the new owner. However, the owner of a large, unsalvageable boat likely will have to pay someone to take title due to the cost of disposal.

Labor rates for internships can be positive or negative. It's unheard of for tech companies to have unpaid software interns, but I understand it common for internships at talent agencies, PR firms, etc. to be unpaid. I've read that high school kids from wealthy families sometimes pay for the right to go to a 3rd world country and perform "volunteer" work for a couple weeks as a way to pad college applications. The variance in these labor rates is due to the difference in the benefit to the laborer vs. the value provided by the labor coupled with the relative supply/demand of laborers/jobs in each category.

Is there a name for goods/services/rights for which prices might reasonably be paid in either direction? A macroeconomic example might be interest rates, but I'm happy to limit the scope to microeconomics.

Is it relevant that the examples I've cited all are composites of individual goods/services, none of which having prices likely to vary in direction? The deal between Amazon and a retailer involves two services: (1) the retailer leasing space to Amazon for a locker and (2) Amazon providing the retailer with a stream of incremental foot traffic. It is only that the values of these two components can vary relative to each other that results in a composite price with varying net cash direction.

It also strikes me that all transactions might theoretically have this property, although with varying likelihoods. For example, every item in my home either has value if sold on eBay/Craigslist or is worth so little that I would have to pay the trash hauler to take it away. Perhaps the term I am seeking expresses a matter of degree vs. kind?

  • $\begingroup$ I would frame the question differently - How do people decide who should pay whom under various social customs and conditions? There is no concept of negative price since either there is no price for the transaction or there is a decision as to who should pay whom for what under the terms of interaction. There are interactions which cause spill-over benefits or harms to third parties. These are called positive or negative externalities. $\endgroup$ – SystemTheory Jan 30 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don’t know if there is a special name for such goods, although I don’t think so as that can happen to any good when the supply and demand intersect at a point where price is negative and for seller there is no option to discard the good and storage is costly. However, note a lot of things that you describe in your post are not negative prices. Artist paying for exposure is not negative price it’s a positive price on the service of providing exposure. $\endgroup$ – 1muflon1 Jan 30 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding "negative prices", I probably should have chosen different words to describe the difference between A paying B and B paying A. "Direction of payment"? $\endgroup$ – ShabbyDoo Jan 31 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ @SystemTheory I hadn't meant to include the concept of social customs, although these likely influence what is perceived as a "fair" price. For each of my examples, I imagined a hypothetical resource allocation auction in which the direction of prices could flip. I know about the concept of externalities, but I don't think they're relevant to term/name I'm seeking (although one could come up with a bunch for each of the examples I gave). $\endgroup$ – ShabbyDoo Jan 31 at 3:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To clarify what I'm seeking, I'm most interested in a way to describe situations like the Amazon Hub Locker one. Imagine that Amazon divided up the country into neighborhood-sized sections and held an auction where entities could bid on the exclusive right and obligation to house a locker. In some areas with several competing drug stores, etc, one can imagine that the resulting price would require the winner to pay Amazon. However, in other sections with few businesses that would benefit from the foot traffic, the likely result would be Amazon paying. $\endgroup$ – ShabbyDoo Jan 31 at 3:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.