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Is This Singlism or a Smart Business Practice?

Is it ever OK to require singles to subsidize couples?

There's a great film festival here in town, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I can't afford anything but a ticket to one of the movies now and then, so typically, I don't even look at the expensive packages and memberships. But on a tip from a fellow single person, I looked into the prices for the memberships in the Cinema Society. As my source had suggested, the price per person for a single membership is much greater than the price per person for a couple membership.

Once I found the numbers online, I sent an email to the address listed at the website, in which I first copied the relevant information:

COUPLE MEMBERSHIP: Two Members (2 cards): $650.00

- Email invitation and admission to ALL regularly scheduled screenings for 2 people (one per card)
- Two guests*** (one per card/per screening) when accompanied by member for $15 each
- Opportunity to purchase Festival passes at a 10% discount
- Advance notice for SBIFF and all related events

SINGLE MEMBERSHIP: One Member (1 card) $425.00

- Email invitation and admission to ALL regularly scheduled screenings for 1 person
- One guest** per screening when accompanied by member for $15
- Opportunity to purchase Festival passes at a 10% discount
- Advance notice for SBIFF and all related events

Then I said this:

"Looks to me like singles pay an extra $100 per person, meaning they are subsidizing the discounts given to couples. Why should I pay more so that a couple can pay less? How about changing the rates to make them equal and fair?"

Here is the response I received:

"Cinema Society is a large fund raiser for our non profit and we offer a discount for those who wish to purchase more. Most of our couple members are not actual couples but friends. Please let me know if there is anything else I can help you with."

I think this is an example of singlism. Yet, I know that business-minded individuals often maintain that this is standard practice and a smart one at that. The Cinema Society brings in more money if two people come than if just one does, so why not charge the couple less per person?

There are several parts to the brief response. In noting that the Cinema Society is a fundraiser for a nonprofit, was the person suggesting that I should be more willing to pay extra because it is for a good cause? (I didn't ask him.) By that reasoning, why shouldn't the couple be willing to pay extra?

As for the second part of the response, I was happy to learn that to qualify for a couple membership, the two people don't have to be having sex. Friends will do. Still, I don't like the idea that people signing up as individuals (regardless of their actual marital or relationship status - one spouse can sign up separately even if the other is uninterested) have to pay more. A lot more: $100, which is more than 30% more. Again, I ask: Why should individuals attending on their own have to provide this enormous subsidy to people attending in pairs?

We're talking about movies here. Do you really have to have someone sitting next to you to appreciate fine film?

If the Cinema Society (or any other business) wants to encourage more sales, why not charge each individual less the more they buy? So, for example, charge me $10 (or whatever) per film if I go to just one or two, $9 per film if I go to three or four, and so forth. (That's what Amazon does in its Amazon Associates program. If you have Amazon links at your website with the proper Amazon Associates code, the more items people purchase after clicking one of your links, the more profit you make. You get rewarded as an individual driving business to their site, rather than getting rewarded for signing up as a couple.)

To my business-minded readers (and everyone else, for that matter): Tell me if you think I am wrong in calling this practice singlism.

My own advice is this:

  1. If you don't care that much about getting a membership in Cinema Society, just don't do it. (I'm not just talking to individuals here, either. Anyone who finds the pricing system unfair can do the same.) BUT, be sure you let the Cinema Society know that you are passing on membership because you don't think that individuals should have to subsidize couples.
  2. If you really do want all that membership gives you, then go for it - but not without first making a point of contacting the Cinema Society and asking them to charge a fair and equal rate for every person.

If just one person decides not to purchase a membership because of this singlist practice, the Cinema Society loses $425. Let them know why. Maybe they will reconsider their price structure.

Of course, most people reading this are not living in the Santa Barbara area. Singles, though, routinely are charged more per person than are couples, and not just for entertainment. Car insurance, health insurance, health club memberships, and lots more are similarly discriminatory. Call out this unfair practice when you see it.

It can make a difference. Take, for example, the infamous single supplement often charged to travelers. A single person pays more for a room than a couple. That is understandable, in a way, because it could be argued that the couple might spend more on other things than a single person would. (It doesn't justify charging the single person three times what a couple is charged, which sometimes happens.) Nonetheless, as complaints about the single supplement accumulated, some travel businesses began to take heed, and there are now some that do not charge singles any more for a room than they charge a couple. As more and more people flock to the businesses that treat singles well, then it will be those businesses that look especially smart and profitable.

[Check out the UPDATE at the end of this post.]

On a related topic, the Singlism book has been in print for just a few days but it has already been mentioned in these blogs:

I also just set up a Facebook page for the Singlism book. So check it out, and if you are interested, sign up for it and "Like" it. I'm going to add the four mentions from above to the page, along with links to any other blogs or reviews or discussions of the book, once more people have signed on to that FB page. Please send me any relevant links.

UPDATE: Yuspie just posted on a similar example, apparently from Indianapolis. Here's an excerpt:

"A recent festival in town was selling tickets for an event, charging singles more than if people bought as couples. It happens all the time for events happening in the evening, the few exceptions might be luncheon and breakfast events, where the world isn't so focused on giving people duo discounts before 2 pm, apparently.

"If you're an organizer for said event, it is not, I repeat NOT OK for you to make singles pay a premium to attend your events. In fact, it is prejudicial. If your counter argument is economies of scale-i.e. it is cheaper to host the event with more people buying in bulk-my retort to you is-awesome! Then give us a sliding scale group discount. (If you buy an entire table, then give us a bigger discount for the more seats we buy, and that INCLUDES a number of seats past 2.)"