19 votes

What is something cheap to create but expensive to purchase?

I was having a conversation with a friend today about the economics of art and the potential cost of purchasing an idea. It got me thinking, what are some other things relatively cheap to create but expensive to purchase?

42 comments

  1. [4]
    gpl
    Link
    Depending on definitions of "cheap" and "expensive", I would say many good foods. It is not super difficult to get restaurant quality meals with some practice. It all comes down to how much value...

    Depending on definitions of "cheap" and "expensive", I would say many good foods. It is not super difficult to get restaurant quality meals with some practice. It all comes down to how much value you place on the time it takes to learn these skills, I would argue.

    24 votes
    1. [2]
      teaearlgraycold
      Link Parent
      Also comes down to whether you want to come to terms with how much salt and butter is in restaurant food. Any time I go all out with butter when I'm cooking I think the food is actually good...

      Also comes down to whether you want to come to terms with how much salt and butter is in restaurant food. Any time I go all out with butter when I'm cooking I think the food is actually good enough to sell. But you shouldn't fry everything you eat in butter.

      6 votes
      1. gpl
        Link Parent
        Vegetables are a huge culprit there. Restaurant veggies are always so much better, and its because they are cooked in an outrageous amount of butter. Seriously, watch videos online at your own...

        Vegetables are a huge culprit there. Restaurant veggies are always so much better, and its because they are cooked in an outrageous amount of butter. Seriously, watch videos online at your own risk. Caveat caenator.

        This can be avoided (somewhat) by turning to cuisines that have not traditionally used a ton of butter. Of course, any cuisine will have its fats and oils used for frying, so in some sense the problem is unavoidable.

        7 votes
    2. mrbig
      Link Parent
      A few examples: good pizza, good granola (most frequently best when made at home), a nice juicy rare steak.

      A few examples: good pizza, good granola (most frequently best when made at home), a nice juicy rare steak.

      1 vote
  2. [12]
    stu2b50
    Link
    Software. In terms of material costs, it's just electricity + internet fees. The actual cost is mostly employee salaries.

    Software. In terms of material costs, it's just electricity + internet fees. The actual cost is mostly employee salaries.

    17 votes
    1. ali
      Link Parent
      For some applications you’d also have some server costs but I agree otherwise

      For some applications you’d also have some server costs but I agree otherwise

      3 votes
    2. [4]
      mrzool
      Link Parent
      The question is about things that are cheap to create and expensive to purchase. Software is not cheap to create, on the contrary, it’s incredibly expensive. On the other side, you can often buy...

      The question is about things that are cheap to create and expensive to purchase. Software is not cheap to create, on the contrary, it’s incredibly expensive. On the other side, you can often buy an app that took years of continuous, highly-skilled work to be developed for a few bucks. Even expensive software is priced at a fraction of the actual production costs. So you might say that in most cases software is expensive to create and relatively cheap to buy, which is exactly the opposite of what OP was asking.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        Software is cheap to create, assuming you're doing it solo. Production costs only come in if you have to pay someone else to do it for you. Effectively, you're going to be purchasing the app all...

        Software is cheap to create, assuming you're doing it solo. Production costs only come in if you have to pay someone else to do it for you. Effectively, you're going to be purchasing the app all over again.

        Same deal with cooking yourself vs. hiring a cook vs. going out.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          Adys
          Link Parent
          Learning to cook is a fairly easy process. Learning to code is not. A beautiful hand-carved wooden sculpture is also very cheap to create, and may not even take that much time... But good luck...

          Learning to cook is a fairly easy process. Learning to code is not. A beautiful hand-carved wooden sculpture is also very cheap to create, and may not even take that much time... But good luck with it.

          Edit, seems like I'm just repeating what others are saying.

          2 votes
          1. ThatFanficGuy
            Link Parent
            Sure, learning to code is fairly difficult compared to cooking. You may be able to whip out a decent meal with a recipe and a bunch of store-bought ingredients. You will need a guide for a...

            Sure, learning to code is fairly difficult compared to cooking. You may be able to whip out a decent meal with a recipe and a bunch of store-bought ingredients. You will need a guide for a programming language.

            Doesn't make coding more expensive: just more time-consuming. It has a higher skill floor. Cooking well takes years of practice.

    3. [5]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      With some experience, it becomes easier to write your own little apps for things you need daily that don't require much maintainance. Stuff like "Buzz every X minutes if you don't detect Y...

      With some experience, it becomes easier to write your own little apps for things you need daily that don't require much maintainance. Stuff like "Buzz every X minutes if you don't detect Y activity".

      As much as I hate Electron, you can use it to write desktop apps using web dev experience. Learn one skill, do two jobs for yourself.

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        Akir
        Link Parent
        Have you heard about NodeGui? Aside from the disagreeable capitalization, it seems like a decent way to deal with native desktop apps in JS without needing to deal with Electron.

        Have you heard about NodeGui? Aside from the disagreeable capitalization, it seems like a decent way to deal with native desktop apps in JS without needing to deal with Electron.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          stu2b50
          Link Parent
          That doesn't really solve the same problems, though. Electron is popular not because people want to write their native app with JS, but rather because they want to specifically reuse their web...

          That doesn't really solve the same problems, though. Electron is popular not because people want to write their native app with JS, but rather because they want to specifically reuse their web codebase in addition to having the flexibility of using any web framework. Rather than providing a GUI, electron provides a (relatively) fast canvas.

          Instead of NodeGui, you could already use PyQt, for instance.

          1 vote
          1. Akir
            Link Parent
            I'm well aware of that, but in this case NodeGui seemed to match what @ThatFanficGuy appeared to want. PyQt doesn't work when you specifically want to use JS. Actually, now that I think about it I...

            I'm well aware of that, but in this case NodeGui seemed to match what @ThatFanficGuy appeared to want. PyQt doesn't work when you specifically want to use JS.

            Actually, now that I think about it I seem to remember hearing that Qt has it's own JS interpreter, so in theory they could have also abandoned NodeJS.

        2. ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          The problem with Electron is the bloated engine necessary to run every single app developed with it, which usually translates to a painfully-slow boot time and significantly-slower interactions...

          The problem with Electron is the bloated engine necessary to run every single app developed with it, which usually translates to a painfully-slow boot time and significantly-slower interactions within the app.

          Brief overview suggests that rendering of NodeGui apps is done via Qt engine, which... runs native code (as opposed to parsing JS)? I'm not sure how that works, given that NodeGui is written in JS that has to parsed at some point. If it's during compilation, it may well be that the resulting app is slimmer than its Electron equivalent and, written to the same code quality, quicker to boot and respond.

          Good catch. I might wanna take a look at it. Whatever mechanism that doesn't end up bundling a browser alongside every app it produces is better than Electron by default.

    4. Chobbes
      Link Parent
      I feel like this depends on your interpretation of the question. Materially it's quite cheap, but if you factor in the time and effort to produce software it's really incredibly expensive to...

      I feel like this depends on your interpretation of the question. Materially it's quite cheap, but if you factor in the time and effort to produce software it's really incredibly expensive to produce.

      If the idea is "what's something that I can make instead of buy to save money" then I think you would really be doing yourself a disservice if you had to, say, build a video game from scratch instead of just buying it. It might take you hundreds of hours (or more) depending on the complexity of the game (especially if you have to build everything from the ground up). Even if you're paid minimum wage it's maybe 10 hours of work to be able to afford to just buy the game --- you get to take advantage of massive economies of scale here, it's really cheap to duplicate a game... But some games can cost millions of dollars to actually produce. I bet it's actually really hard to find software that would be cheaper to recreate for yourself.

      Whereas, like, hummus takes minimal time to make and is way cheaper than buying the finished product.

      1 vote
  3. Rez
    Link
    Anything that takes skilled labor but comparatively few materials, e.g. art as you mention, so a lot of knowledge or artisan work. Also, children. Adoption is an expensive way to buy a kid if you...

    Anything that takes skilled labor but comparatively few materials, e.g. art as you mention, so a lot of knowledge or artisan work. Also, children. Adoption is an expensive way to buy a kid if you don't get one from relatives.

    12 votes
  4. nacho
    Link
    Signed items. All you need is any item and a pen. The value all comes from the famous person's signature.

    Signed items. All you need is any item and a pen.

    The value all comes from the famous person's signature.

    9 votes
  5. [3]
    Litmus2336
    Link
    Depends on how much your time is valued. A painting by Degas might cost few materials, but you're really paying for the expertise. I think the only thing I can really think of is industries with a...

    Depends on how much your time is valued. A painting by Degas might cost few materials, but you're really paying for the expertise.

    I think the only thing I can really think of is industries with a monopoly, or that use slave labor, like diamonds and clothes.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      Silbern
      Link Parent
      Or industries of conveniance. A bottle of soda syrup might only cost the restauraubt $15, and it lasts for dozens or hundreds of drinks that sell for $2.00 or more each. Movie theater popcorn,...

      Or industries of conveniance. A bottle of soda syrup might only cost the restauraubt $15, and it lasts for dozens or hundreds of drinks that sell for $2.00 or more each. Movie theater popcorn, text messages, anything sold in a vending machine, etc. also falls into this category.

      If we can consider "cheap" to be relative, than luxury products can also fall into this catagory. Although they're expensive to make, they often sell for way more than the production cost.

      7 votes
      1. ThiccPad
        Link Parent
        5 gallon syrup goes about 89 a box. Funny thing is that the premix bag ( with water added, thus less sales ) also goes for similar prices

        5 gallon syrup goes about 89 a box.

        Funny thing is that the premix bag ( with water added, thus less sales ) also goes for similar prices

  6. jcdl
    Link
    Some pottery can be quite expensive, but it's really just special burnt dirt.

    Some pottery can be quite expensive, but it's really just special burnt dirt.

    7 votes
  7. [3]
    Wes
    Link
    Hummus is disproportionately expensive for how cheap chickpeas are.

    Hummus is disproportionately expensive for how cheap chickpeas are.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      Agreed. But at the same time, actually processing a good batch of hummus is really time consuming and irritating. But at the same time, having tasted a homemade hummus with properly toasted sesame...

      Agreed. But at the same time, actually processing a good batch of hummus is really time consuming and irritating.

      But at the same time, having tasted a homemade hummus with properly toasted sesame and chickpeas it's really hard to go back to store-bought. But that also takes the most effort to prepare....

      1 vote
      1. Death
        Link Parent
        I don't find it all that time-consuming but granted I tend to be satisfied with making hummus with a blender. Still tastes loads better than what I can get in stores.

        I don't find it all that time-consuming but granted I tend to be satisfied with making hummus with a blender. Still tastes loads better than what I can get in stores.

  8. [6]
    post_below
    Link
    Internet access in North America.

    Internet access in North America.

    5 votes
    1. [4]
      gpl
      Link Parent
      I'm curious why you're counting this as "cheap to create". In my opinion the infrastructure that has gone into making the net readily available was a tremendous upfront cost.

      I'm curious why you're counting this as "cheap to create". In my opinion the infrastructure that has gone into making the net readily available was a tremendous upfront cost.

      4 votes
      1. [3]
        post_below
        Link Parent
        Because the OP used art as an example. Art may be inexpensive to create in terms of materials but that doesn't take consideration the time it takes to arrive at the level of talent to create...

        Because the OP used art as an example. Art may be inexpensive to create in terms of materials but that doesn't take consideration the time it takes to arrive at the level of talent to create valuable art, or the hours that go into the actual creation.

        But even without art as an example, the up front costs involved in North American internet are tiny in comparison to the profit margins, both yearly and relative to the initial investment. Not to mention all the government subsidies over the years. It's a well documented scam if you care to search.

        It's cheap relative to what it sells for.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          INTERNET. FOR. THE PEOPLE! INTERNET. FOR. THE PEOPLE! I wonder if there's ever going to be a cheap Internet provider in the US. I know the Big Tech will stifle any development on that front...

          INTERNET. FOR. THE PEOPLE! INTERNET. FOR. THE PEOPLE!

          I wonder if there's ever going to be a cheap Internet provider in the US. I know the Big Tech will stifle any development on that front because of the brilliant market strategy the country's currently employing, but... a man can dream.

          Then again, if it weren't for the "choke you with oligopoly" strategy everyone seems to be just fine with, Internet access would probably be cheaper. It's very cheap in Russia, all things considered, because of the active competition.

          1 vote
          1. ChuckS
            Link Parent
            Starlink! Starlink! Starlink! They'll break the monopoly in my area if nothing else, and I'm going to switch to them on Day. Fucking. One. just to give Comcast the finger. I don't care how much it...

            Starlink! Starlink! Starlink!

            They'll break the monopoly in my area if nothing else, and I'm going to switch to them on Day. Fucking. One. just to give Comcast the finger. I don't care how much it costs.

    2. Hidegger
      Link Parent
      Cell phone data is ridiculously expensive.

      Cell phone data is ridiculously expensive.

  9. arp242
    Link
    When I worked at a computer store years ago we bought cables for about €0.50 to €1, but sold them for €10 to €20. The worst part is we had loads of spare cables that came with mainboards etc. we...

    When I worked at a computer store years ago we bought cables for about €0.50 to €1, but sold them for €10 to €20. The worst part is we had loads of spare cables that came with mainboards etc. we used for building computers and repairs but didn't use.

    4 votes
  10. skybrian
    Link
    Many things can be very cheap if you're in the right place at the right time. (Consider fruit trees when in season.) Often the expense is getting it to the people who want it at the time they want it.

    Many things can be very cheap if you're in the right place at the right time. (Consider fruit trees when in season.) Often the expense is getting it to the people who want it at the time they want it.

    2 votes
  11. Greg
    Link
    I'd say rarity is the best way to take something simple and imbue it with value. Action Comics #1, the Penny Black, and Kenner Star Wars toys were all cheap, mass produced consumer items. People...

    I'd say rarity is the best way to take something simple and imbue it with value. Action Comics #1, the Penny Black, and Kenner Star Wars toys were all cheap, mass produced consumer items. People didn't save them or take special care because they didn't see a reason to; in its way, that's exactly why they're so sought after now.

    Of course, it can't just be rare. It has to be in demand as well, whether for aesthetics, status, functionality, cultural significance, or any number of other possibilities. But if at least one of those is already fulfilled then rarity can conjure value from the æther. Autographs have already been mentioned, and they're a great example because you can literally see the transformation in value happen at the stroke of a pen.

    Art is an interesting one too; the painting alone, by an unknown artist, might well be judged on the skill and talent it embodies. Maybe it's worth thousands in its own right. But the second a piece of evidence comes to light showing it was the product of a world famous artist, it becomes worth millions. The work hasn't changed. The skill hasn't changed. The value has.

    1 vote
  12. [3]
    ubergeek
    Link
    Undistilled alcohol. Stupid cheap inputs, and relatively low labor costs. I personally, as a hobby, could easily surpass the TBB limits on home wine production, with under a few hundred dollars in...

    Undistilled alcohol.

    Stupid cheap inputs, and relatively low labor costs. I personally, as a hobby, could easily surpass the TBB limits on home wine production, with under a few hundred dollars in materials, and very few hours of time.

    1. [2]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      What is undistilled alcohol? Can you sell it?

      What is undistilled alcohol? Can you sell it?

      1. ubergeek
        Link Parent
        Any alcohol not put through a distilliation process (ie, wine, beer, etc). You could sell it, if you got all the licensing from the government out of the way, which is what causes the prices of...

        Any alcohol not put through a distilliation process (ie, wine, beer, etc).

        You could sell it, if you got all the licensing from the government out of the way, which is what causes the prices of alcohol to remain so high.

        12 oz of crap beer, or example, costs pennies to make. 750ml of Apfelwein is a buck or two (USD), maybe.

        Distillation requires boiling, and a large equipment layout, so the production costs are quite a bit higher, but still cheaper than what the typical prices are.

        1 vote
  13. Death
    Link
    There's some fooditems , especially non-local ones like naan or tortillas, that really don't require that much in terms of ingredients and cost. Nor do they have to take a lot of time and specific...

    There's some fooditems , especially non-local ones like naan or tortillas, that really don't require that much in terms of ingredients and cost. Nor do they have to take a lot of time and specific material to make unless you're incredibly specific about following the original recipes.

    On the same note: it always amazes me how much money people are seemingly willing to pay for supermarket pancakes or pancake mix. Pancakes are nothing but flour, milk and eggs, some of the most common ingredients you can find. Even the time investment is only relatively big.

  14. [3]
    nothis
    Link
    Nothing, if you count the amount of time needed to learn how to create it. (... sorry, I'm in that mood)

    Nothing, if you count the amount of time needed to learn how to create it.

    (... sorry, I'm in that mood)

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      That's not true. Learning to cook doesn't take that long, but the meals you create over the course of your lifetime will more than make up for the labor cost.

      That's not true. Learning to cook doesn't take that long, but the meals you create over the course of your lifetime will more than make up for the labor cost.

      3 votes
      1. nothis
        Link Parent
        Yea, I was just feeling like an edgy teenager, sorry, this isn't really the thread for that kind of argument. I'll defend, though, that most things worth doing have some amount of learning that...

        Yea, I was just feeling like an edgy teenager, sorry, this isn't really the thread for that kind of argument. I'll defend, though, that most things worth doing have some amount of learning that you could never bypass with "tricks", like, truly learning how to cook takes a couple of hundred hours. It's absolutely worth it, in the long term, but if we're doing "expensive", as in monetary value, for comparison, I think it's not unreasonable to actually price the learning time. As a long term investment, it's almost always worth it, but it's not like it's completely unreasonable to "pay for things you could do yourself".

        1 vote