But Wait ... THERE'S MORE: Tighten Your Abs, Make Millions, and Learn How the $100 Billion Infomercial Industry Sold Us Everything but the Kitchen Sink. provides the material for Book Review No. 21. A reader of the book will discover you might have bought the kitchen sink at the county fair, where the barker who sold you a complete kitchen rehab might have gone on to shilling exercise machines or investment schemes on late night television. The There's More part of the title is accurate: there are chapters on the evolution of the infomercial from the fairground hustle to the late night paid program (might as well get a return on that investment, rather than display a test pattern) to a cable channel devoted entirely to selling stuff (the absence of a secure ordering protocol for television posing an impediment to going completely interactive the way the Internet sellers have). There's also material on the pitchmen, such as the late Mr Mays, who don't necessarily become fixtures on infomercials, and an instructive chapter on how the promoters make their money. That chapter ought be required reading for anyone tempted to go to a make-money seminar or the infomercial convention (yes, there is such a thing) or to participate in multi-level marketing.
The pricing practices of the infomercial operators are of academic interest. One of my pet Imponderables for beginning students is the pitch that includes "a $100 value for $19.95," (or, as the book points out, more frequently, five easy payments of $9.95). Principles-level answer: prices are signals and the good is probably not a $100 value, or even the equivalent of $19.95. There could be material for the behavioral economists: the infomercial is commonly a bewildering bundle (There's More!) of a gadget and some accessories and a useful manual and on and on, and the profit is in the on and on. Fun reading, although the author's perception of Wal-Mart as a good substitute for most of Target's offerings could provoke a rant. But comparing the world's biggest salvage and surplus operation with a mid-range department store is a story for another day.