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An essay by Israel Zangwill

The Discount Farce

Title:     The Discount Farce
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

Having started your magazine, you will begin humorously enough by affixing a mock price to it. What a strange world of make-believe it is! We are so habituated to shams that we cannot help shamming even where there is nothing to be gained by it. Why is music published at four shillings when you can buy it for one and four, or at most one and eight? Why are novels published at thirty-one and six and the magazines at a shilling? "Shilling shockers" are sold at ninepence, which is as comical as selling "tenpenny nails" at sixpence. The same principle rules in other trades. It almost seems as if there is an ineradicable instinct in humanity for getting things below their price, even if at more than their value. Hence the marked popularity of "sales" and "reductions." The idea of getting things cheap reconciles one to getting things one doesn't want. The craze for cheap things leads one into frightful extravagance. In some shops the weakness of humanity is pandered to without disguise, and every article is ticketed with a little card, from which the first price is carefully ruled out, and even on the second price you get a discount for cash. This same discount for cash is at least intelligible, but business men are painfully familiar with another wonderful deduction. After you wait months for your money, you get a cheque less "discount on payment." This seems to involve an exasperating Hibernicism. "On payment," forsooth! So long as it remains unpaid, the debt due to you is, say, one hundred pounds. But the moment you really get it, it shrinks to ninety-five. Why not call it ninety-five at the start and be done with it? But, no! men will not give up the subtle pleasure of discounts, ineffably childish though it be. The rather deaf lady who being asked six shillings a yard for stuff replied "Sixteen shillings a yard! I'll give you eleven," and who, when her mistake was pointed out, said "I couldn't think of paying more than four and sixpence" was a genuine type of the population of these islands.

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Israel Zangwill's essay: Discount Farce