What an Honor, and It Only Costs $3,995

After Freakonomics got popular, it was unbelievable how many interview requests/invitations I received. I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying there were at least 10 per day for a year, or over 3,500 in that time. Now I get “only” three or four a day. Needless to say, I got really good at saying no, much to the chagrin of my friend Dee Dee DeBartlo, who is in charge of publicity for Freakonomics at William Morrow/HarperCollins.

The most common invitation is for talk radio. I think if I wanted to I could have spent all day, every day doing local radio interviews. The next most common are invitations to speak, especially to high-school AP economics classes. Then of course there are print journalists, bloggers, and the occasional TV.

It’s rare that an interview request catches my attention. I got one today, though, that did. It read as follows:

My name is [REDACTED] and I am a independent producer for the special in-flight radio program “America’s Innovators and Entrepreneurs,” which will air worldwide on American Airlines’ “FORTUNE In-Flight Radio” Channel during the entire month of December 2007.

This special on-going radio series spotlights compelling profiles of innovators and entrepreneurs — from small businesses to large enterprises — the people and companies that make up the backbone of business in America and are rarely heard from. This show will feature stories of hope, ideas and success stories in ways you’ve never heard before.

I fly American Airlines quite a bit, I think to myself, and they have done some very nice things for me in the past. I wouldn’t mind helping them out. On the other hand, I turn down every interview, so I would need some compelling reason to do this one. Eventually, my thoughts turn to how infuriating it would be to all the economists and others who despise me to stumble accidentally onto the interview while relaxing on the airplane. I decide I will do it.

Then I read a little further:

Since we’re on deadline, we’re offering our last few spots on our December 2007 edition for only $3,995 (normally $6,995). Please note we are recording interviews no later than August 17th and due to our tight deadline, we need a commitment to secure your spot no later than Friday, July 27th.

What?! This is not an interview request, this is a sales pitch! They want me to hand over $3,995 (normally $6,995) for the privilege of doing it.

Three thoughts:

1) I will never again listen to the interviews on in-flight radio.

2) Is the airtime really worth that little? The interview plays on 29,000 planes for a month. Maybe there are 150 passengers per flight. Let’s say each plane has passengers on it 12 hours per day. They loop through the interviews maybe once an hour. If my calculations are right, that means there are 1.6 billion separate chances for a passenger to hear the interview. Even if only 1 in 1,000 times someone is actually listening, that would still mean 1.6 million interviews heard. At a price of $3,995, that would only be one-fourth of a penny per interview heard. That seems pretty darn cheap. Maybe I will tell Dee Dee to buy up the whole rotation when our next book comes out. All the listener would hear was one three-minute interview with Dubner and Levitt, played over and over and over.

3) At this low a price, is it even worth selling the space? It almost seems like American Airlines and Fortune would be better off getting real interviews if all they are earning is $40,000 a month from this.

This is another great example of how blurry the lines have become between reporting and advertising. We recently posted about how Martha Stewart sells time on her TV show. The fact that I find it so shocking that these slots are for sale demonstrates what fantastic advertising opportunities they really are. I process information differently when I think it is reporting than when it is paid advertising. So if you can trick me into thinking it is reporting, it is far more likely to change my opinion than if I know it is an ad.

Which is exactly why we are going to see more and more of this in the future. But the only way you are going to hear my voice on an American Airlines flight in December 2007 is if you and I happen to be on the same flight, and you are sitting in the row in front of me, and I apologize for the fact that my kids have been kicking the back of your seat for the last three hours straight.


Ron Popeil must be very proud. Is he still alive?


At least if you listen carefully you can tell when Paul Harvey slides effortlessly from "the rest of the story" into an advertisement.

Product placements in media like Martha Stewart and in movies is big time business. I wonder, how do the marketers measure the success of a fleeting glimpse of a Rolex on James Bond's wrist? Getting a more direct endorsement from Martha Stewart or, for your book, Oprah is a different order of magnitude. (No thought that Oprah charges anyone for her book reviews and endorsements.)

With so much ad clutter, marketers are looking for what they call the "white spaces" in our lives so they can spray graffiti there, too.


It still wouldn't reach as many people as a simple ad on Drudgereport would, which btw is now advertising a "Freedomnomics: the free market answer to freakanomics" Book. It even has a nice blurb from Ann Coulter....


Would my wife hear your voice if she asked you not to recline your seat back into her knees, since she's so tall? Just wondering...


I'm not quite as famous as you are, nor as well-educated (I didn't attend SPA, but I live four blocks away...), or as prolific a writer... but I'm sorta proud to report that I got the same piece of "be on AA" spam that you did.


Wow! I received the same invitation. I'm glad to be in good company!

My theory is that they're sending invitations to anyone who has spoken publicly, or perhaps have bought a list from one of those annoying "1000 corporate directories for $10000!" companies that keep spamming me.


I came across something similar with a journal about Project Finance. They wanted to discuss writing an article for their magazine so I met with them, then after a while they mentioned that the fee for the article would be £10,000. I thought, Wow, I was going to do it for free. Then it became clear that I'd got it the wrong way round and they wanted the payment. The meeting came to a quick conclusion.


this is the place that apparently does these:

someone on another blog got the same offer 6 months ago but they "only" had to pay $2995!

I wonder if anyone actually pays the $6995 price?
If something is always on sale and no one ever pays the full price are there not laws that address this issue at the retail level?
You know, like the Rug Emporium where everything is 50% off all the time, except maybe one day a year when things are full price.


I got the same offer, and the strangest part is that I'm just a software technology consultant. I'm not even sure how they got my name.

I wonder if they do any kind of measurements on how many people listen to which channel. I doubt it; the technology seems pretty crude. So, instead of looking at the potential number of listeners (everyone flying on a plane), maybe a bottom-up approach is more appropriate -- like, how many people do you see wearing headphones plugged into the in-flight entertainment, who aren't watching a movie, and who fit the "business person" mold? These people are likely to fly often and not listen to the same program each time, so if you suspect there are 10 candidates listeners on the flight, odds are good that several of them already flew this week and if they heard the program once, aren't going to listen again. So instead of looking at total passengers per flight (150) times the number of flights over a period, figure out the total number of unique passengers over that period.

My hunch is that only a handful of people on each flight listen to that program and even fewer can remember who was interviewed.



It seems they're canvassing the nation right now. danah boyd received the same letter.


As others above have already confirmed, this is Sky Radio Network who sent you that solicitation - they're spamming the world using the email addresses obtained from WHOIS records when you registered a domain name.

I've had a series of encounters with them over the past few months you may find interesting to read about - just this week, they posted a comment to my blog purporting to be a customer of Sky Radio defending them.

It does raise an interesting question: Shouldn't a company that effectively manages PR would know how to properly handle negative PR? I'd assume that ignoring it, rather than resorting to Astroturfing, would have been best for them.


Bill G

"3) At this low a price, is it even worth selling the space? It almost seems like American Airlines and Fortune would be better off getting real interviews if all they are earning is $40,000 a month from this."

My guess is American, and the other airlines, see none of the interview "fees" directly, it all goes to Sky Radio and for them a half million dollar a year [gross] business is likely just fine and dandy.

I bet the entire video package, TV shows, interviews, etc. gets packaged and provided to the airlines together under a contract that pays them a reasonable fee for providing "entertainment" to their trapped passengers.


I'm yet another complete nobody who has gotten this offer at least a half dozen times in the last two months. I wonder how it impacts their sales pitch now that it's out and about on the web that their 'discriminating criteria' for selection is that you registered as a customer of american airlines.


I can't believe you hadn't realized that those interviews were paid for and scripted! They are so unnatural, and the questions are obviously written and recorded and spliced into a recording of marketingspeak "answers" that were previously recorded.

I got a similar pitch, same prices, same airline, same "since we're on deadline" copy, although it wasn't branded as Fortune. It was just sent under their generic name of Sky Radio Network. I think they just pay various publications to allow them to use their names for some of the broadcasts. The only part of Fortune involved in these is the accounts receivable department, I'd reckon.

Although I know those interviews are advertisements, they can occasionally be interesting, for instance, when a founder of an interesting company is speaking. Most places just put their marketing or PR VP on, and those suck.


Our CEO was featured on one of these some months ago -- as was a former CEO from a decade ago, now running another company.

I don't know that many people actually listen to these unless they are trying to sleep on a long flight. Instead, the PR department plugs these to employees and clients in order to enhance the CEO's reputation for "thought leadership". It seems to work.

$3,995 to enhance your reputation as a thought leader and give you an excuse to send a tape to potential clients they might notice (not listen to, just notice)? Seems cheap to me.


I received that same email, and can readily admit that I do not have one percent of your clout.

Since my only press has been complaining to the NY Times and Fox 11 News about constant, unregulated filming in downtown Los Angeles or an interview in Business Week about student loan debt, it can only be a scam. Unless they really think a thirtysomething Art Director, buried under huge student loans, is a "thought leader." Heh.

Calton Bolick

#2: "...how do the marketers measure the success of a fleeting glimpse of a Rolex on James Bond's wrist?"

Not very well in this case, apparently, since it was an Omega watch he was wearing (and calling attention to) in the last movie. And the only reason I remember THAT is because a British film critic mentioned the unsubtle plug in his review and suggested that those going to see it should cry out "ka-CHING!" when that bit came up.


The James Bond makers are very bad at popping branding in their movies. Note that every time J.B flies the logo of the plane is very well displayed (Pan-Am and British Airways).

There is one scene in one movie which doesn't actually fit in with the rest of the movie except he drives the newest BMW.

This branding does seem to work quite well though. A martini by definition is (was) a drink made with gin. In the books James Bond did add some vodka just to give it more of a kick but the main ingredient was gin which has a very distinctive taste whereas vodka has little to no taste and is more of an additive than a base.

But, along came Smirnoff and made the world's most popular spy drink a "vodka martini" and created a new drink.

Ike Pigott

Levitt - you're missing the even bigger cost:

If 1.6-million people recognize you, you'll quickly run out of pocket money as they walk up and ask for it.


Our little IT consulting business got this spam, and because we are working so hard to expand, it seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was. They didn't even send us the final copy of the recording until we demanded it, and then said they couldn't re-record it because the airline already had it.They weren't very responsive to repeated emails, but you better believe they were all over us to get paid. For what? We didn't receive even one inquiry from this joke advertising.