MONEY Odd Spending

8 Ways Somebody Is Making Money Off Ebola Fears

Clorox and Lysol on shelves in store
Patti McConville—Alamy

The buzz over Ebola has triggered sales that might be described as overboard (body suits), ironic (Ebola Halloween costumes), or downright bizarre (protective masks featuring a hip-hop artist's face).

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak is officially over in Nigeria. Yet fears of the deadly virus continue to grip the world, meaning that sales of Ebola-related products like these are likely to continue being strong.

Anti-Germ Products
Disinfectants, Clorox, Lysol, and hand sanitizer are among the germ-fighting products that have experienced a boost in sales since Ebola fears have hit the U.S. and other nations. In a recent four-week period, for instance, Clorox sales were up 28%. Anecdotally, travelers report that hand sanitizer and other anti-germ products are appearing more often near the checkout areas of airport shops, though that may be partly just because it’s flu season.

Protective Gear
After word spread that someone in the U.S. was being treated for Ebola, sales of medical-grade masks, gloves, body suits, and other protective gear made by one Chicago-area firm spiked. The number of phone calls the company handled increased fivefold almost overnight, and sales of face masks jumped by 40%. Sales of a wide variety of infection protection and doomsday prep kits have soared as well. And speculative investors see opportunity in the situation, too. One day in early October, the stock price of Lakeland Industries—which manufactures industrial protective gear worn by professionals who might come into contact with dangerous chemicals and viruses—surged more than 50% (before retreating significantly of late).

Hip-Hop Ebola Masks
Basic polypropylene masks sell for less thanb 10 cents apiece when purchased in bulk. But when you’re going to the trouble of protecting yourself from germs with a mask, why not go the extra step and protect yourself in style? That, presumably, is the sales pitch from the rapper Cam’ron, who is selling polypropylene masks for $19.99 each, featuring an image of his likeness on them—oddly, while he’s speaking on a pink flip phone. Perhaps even more oddly, the item is only available for preorder at the moment. “Ships 11/7/14,” the order page explains. You’ll have to hold your breath or (gasp!) use a lame, basic mask until then.

Ebola Halloween Costumes
Thanks to the world’s lightning-fast-moving attention span, we’re guaranteed that anything that’s been buzzing in the news or has achieved meme status in October is bound to pop up in some form as a Halloween costume. Even if it’s a subject as grim and deadly serious as Ebola. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the “hot costume” label has been applied to Ebola-related outfits, including Ebola containment workers, Ebola victims, and Ebola zombies.

Ebola Toys
To be fair to Giant Microbes, the Connecticut-based “Learning & Fun” company has been manufacturing plush toy versions of Bed Bugs, Chickenpox, Dengue Fever, Black Death, and no fewer than three Ebola products long before Ebola sales became trendy. In any event, sales of Giant Microbes’ “uniquely contagious” Ebola toys have been off the charts since the virus became a mainstay on cable TV news; the company has been completely sold out for days.

Fake Charity Scams
The Better Business Bureau warned consumers about “a variety of Ebola-related scams and problematic fundraisers” that have popped up in recent days, including crowdfunding ventures that aren’t necessarily providing any aid to Ebola victims and sketchy phone solicitations that aren’t tied to any genuine, known charities.

Vitamin C
Essential oils and herbal remedies are among the many unproven “cures” that have been suggested as strategies for fighting off Ebola, but of all the groundless theories for protecting oneself, none has gotten more attention than Vitamin C. One opportunistic New York businessman has been selling up to 14,000 packages per day lately of a supplement with 554% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C—which he packages under the name Ebola-C.

Science blogs have felt compelled to combat the misinformation, describing one effort to pump up sales of the vitamin as a “particularly irresponsible bit of quackery promotion.” In a Los Angeles Times story about purported Ebola “cures,” Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and professor of medicine at New York University, said that while Vitamin C is part of a healthy diet and helps build up one’s immune system, “there’s no evidence it has any effect on infectious disease” when taken in higher doses. What’s more, “all this quack stuff takes money and effort away” from legitimate research devoted to coping with Ebola and other health dangers.

Web URLs
In 2008, a forward-thinking entrepreneur named Jon Schultz purchased the Ebola.com URL for $13,500. He’s now willing to part with control of the site for a mere $150,000, the Washington Post reported.

MONEY Charity

The Surprising Reason People Are Mobbing Church Pews

This Jan. 12, 2014 photo shows people gathered for mass inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y., during a “Mass Mob.”
A "Mass Mob" in January packed the pews of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y. Carolyn Thompson—AP

So-called "Mass Mobs" are flooding beautiful old Catholic churches in Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and other cities to raise money and boost enthusiasm among the faithful.

The term “flash mob” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004, defined as a group of people meeting in a public place to perform an “unusual or seemingly random act,” before heading off again on their merry way, in also random fashion. While the original inventor of the flash mob came up with the idea as a way to mock hipster conformity, the concept was nonetheless broadly adopted (of course!) by the trend-following masses. Within weeks of the first flash mob, there were copycat events all over the world.

Mobs have since popped up everywhere from Target stores to Manhattan’s Katz’s Deli (the latter for a group re-creation of the fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally”). The movement has also been coopted by Russian political operatives, who reportedly paid people to form a flash mob in support of Vladimir Putin; by corporate brands like Oscar Mayer, BMW, Arby’s, and IKEA, which are known to hire “random” flash mobs for marketing events; and even by hoodlums who conduct “flash robs,” in which a group of young people floods a store and grabs as much stuff as possible before running off without paying.

In the next evolution of the flash mob, the masses have turned their attention to, well, mass. Credit for the rise of the Mass Mob goes to a group in Buffalo, which organized its first event at Saint Adalbert Basilica last November and followed that up with a handful of flash mass (in both senses of the word) attendances at other churches in the city. At a Mass Mob in January, for instance, Buffalo’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church received a helping hand in the form of 300 parishioners, when a typical Sunday mass sees fewer than 100 churchgoers.

“Maybe it will inspire people to come a few times a year,” Christopher Byrd, one of Buffalo’s Mass Mob organizers, said of the group’s efforts. “And it gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”

The idea has proven inspirational in another way, with similar Mass Mob groups and events popping up in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. A recent Mass Mob at Detroit’s St. Florian church, for instance, resulted in a crowd of 2,000 people for a mass that’s usually attended by about 200, and the collection basket topped $19,000, also roughly 10 times the norm.

MONEY Odd Spending

You Can Buy the Mona Lisa for $25,000

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood
Is it real...or is it a Mark Landis? Fine Art Images—Getty Images

It's a forgery rather than the real "Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci, of course. But the asking price is still pretty steep.

The world’s most famous portrait hangs on a wall at the Louvre. It’s not for sale, and it’s hard to imagine that it ever will go on the market. But perhaps the next-best thing went on sale this week, at a coffee shop in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood.

The Bedford + Bowery blog reported that a painting that some are calling the “Fauxna Lisa” is hanging on the wall at the Mercer Street Think Coffee shop. This portrait is most definitely for sale, with an asking price of $25,000.

Such a sum for what’s admittedly a forgery might seem absurd. Until you learn that the creator of this artwork, while not a household name like Leonardo da Vinci, is fairly famous—even infamous—in his own right.

The remarkably high-quality forgery was done by Mark Landis, a notorious art forger who has been profiled by the likes of The New Yorker and has done copies of artworks by sources ranging from Picasso to Disney. The quality of his reproductions has been good enough to fool dozens of museums, including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Landis is also the subject of a new documentary called “Art and Craft,” and apparently the makers of the film approached Think Coffee recently with a proposal to hang Landis’s faux version of the “Mona Lisa” on the walls and sell it.

By one account, Landis completed the “Fauxna Lisa” in just 90 minutes. In a recent “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, however, the painter said that the reproduction of the “Mona Lisa” was the most challenging forgery he’s ever done. “It took me a whole weekend,” he wrote in response to a question on the forum. When asked how he was able to do such intricate work, and so quickly, Landis responded, “Well, it’s like a magic trick you know. If I told people, it wouldn’t be worth anything anymore.”

Surprisingly, Landis says that he has never benefited financially from his forgeries; in most cases, he simply donated them to institutions. He was busted (but not arrested) in 2010, and while it was originally reported that proceeds from the sale of his “Fauxna Lisa” were intended to go to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, which is located in the Mississippi town where Landis is from—and which, fittingly, was duped in the past into accepting a forgery by Landis, a museum representative reached out to MONEY and said this is not true.

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that proceeds from the sale of Mark Landis's "Mona Lisa" forgery would benefit the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. The museum's director of marketing said that this is not the case.]

MONEY Odd Spending

FTC Says Claims for Caffeine Underwear Are Groundless

The Federal Trade Commission settles with two marketers of caffeine-infused "shapewear" over claims their products promote weight loss.

MONEY Odd Spending

12 Things Made for Kids That Are Now Being Marketed to Adults

Who says kids should get to have all the fun? Not the forces behind a wide range of seemingly juvenile foods, products, and places that are increasingly being sold to adults—plenty of whom are happy to play along.

It’s hard to remember a time when video games and comic books were enjoyed almost exclusively by people under the age of 18. But that was the case a mere couple of decades ago, before both began featuring violence, profanity, sex, and other material not appropriate for young children. Along the same lines, in recent times many other things long associated with kids are now being marketed to adult consumers. Here are a dozen examples:

Gummy Vitamins. A string of studies indicating that vitamins appear to be largely a waste of money has resulted in flat sales for the once sizzling vitamin market. It looks like consumers are getting the messages spread by researchers in the field, who point out that while vitamin supplements are correlated with better health, there is little proof of causality because the people taking vitamins tend to healthier and take better care of themselves in the first place. But if consumers are dubious about the benefits of boring old-fashioned vitamins, they appear less skeptical about vitamins “disguised as candy,” a.k.a. gummy vitamins. Once popular only with children, colorful, chewable, sweet-tasting vitamins are now ubiquitous in stores’ adult vitamin sections, and makers of such adult vitamins say that the category has been enjoying “explosive growth” of late.

Walt Disney World. In some ways, Disney World has always been marketed to adults—who often say they enjoy “feeling like a kid” while touring the theme parks sans children. Some even wish Disney would host child-free days when adults could hit the rides without having to deal with the young whippersnappers clogging up the parks. While that’s highly unlikely to ever take place, Disney has taken several steps over the years to appeal to adult-only clientele, including the introduction of booze for sale at the Magic Kingdom, as well as special events like $35 “After Hours” party with alcohol and tasting menus, and, most recently, a $79 “Food & Wine Late Night” at EPCOT.

Pop Tarts. While interest in breakfast cereal has collapsed in recent years, sales of another kid favorite at the breakfast table, Pop Tarts, have risen each and every year for more than three decades straight. The Wall Street Journal noted that while Pop Tarts are most popular with teens and younger children, “adults reach for them as a retro snack.” It’s not just nostalgia that’s drawing adults to Pop Tarts, but that, “Shoppers increasingly want quick breakfasts they can eat with one hand on the go.” Over the years, Pop Tarts and its imitators have periodically tried out products more directly marketed to adults and foodies, such as “Toaster Pastries” in flavors like Cherry Pomegranate from Nature’s Path.

Happy Meals. McDonald’s briefly tried to market a “Go Active Happy Meal” for adults a decade ago, with a salad and an exercise booklet instead of chicken nuggets and a plastic toy. It obviously didn’t catch on—very few healthy fast food items are successful—but this fall, the Happy Meal for Adults concept is back, bizarrely, in the world of high fashion. Nordstrom is selling a series of pop culture-themed items from Moschino, including an iPhone case that looks like a McDonald’s French fry container ($85) and a Happy Meal lookalike shoulder bag that retails for over $1,000.

Backpacks. In what could be considered a sign that adults really don’t want to grow up, backpack sales are up dramatically among consumers ages 18 and up—including a 48% rise in backpack purchases by female adults over a recent time span. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and Fendi are among the many fashion designers to feature posh leather and camouflage versions of the bag normally associated with high school and college kids, only theirs sometimes cost $2,000.

Lunchables. OK, so neither Kraft nor its Oscar Mayer brand actually markets Lunchables to adults. But the Adult Lunch Combos look eerily like Lunchables only without Oreos or Capri Sun, and everyone is referring to the new protein-packed prepared lunches as “Lunchables for Adults” even though the real name is the Portable Protein Pack.

Obstacle Courses. Kids have playgrounds in town parks and schools. What do adults have to help keep them in shape while also having fun? The gym doesn’t qualify because, for most people, working out is work, not fun. The exception is when the workout allows adults to swing, jump, get dirty, and challenge themselves on courses made specifically for them, like those on the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior” and on Tough Mudder and other extreme obstacle course races. This fall, Las Vegas is even hosting an “Adult-Themed” course where the obstacles have names like the Dominatrix Dungeon and the Blue Balls Dash.

Sugary Cereals. A big reason that cereal sales have dropped is that fewer kids are eating them for breakfast. Yet as parents try to sub in healthier fare as a replacement for kid-favorite sugary cereals, the cereal giants appear to be having some success reaching a different audience—the parents themselves. Baby Boomers and Gen X, who grew up craving the sugar rush provided by a bowl of neon-colored goodies on Saturday mornings, are now being fed heaping doses of nostalgia, in the form of cartoon-character cereals brought back from the dead and other adult-focused marketing efforts. The fastest-growing consumers of Trix and Lucky Charms are, in fact, older adults.

Legos. “The Lego Movie” was certainly clever and entertaining enough to warrant an adult audience, especially among those who grew up building with the bricks. Lately, Lego has been making another appeal to adults. Several Legoland Discovery Centers—which normally attract families with children under the age of 10 or 12—have been offering special Adult Nights, where all visitors must be 18 or over.

Fruit Roll-Ups. Many adults would probably be embarrassed if they were caught eating Fruit Roll-Ups, delicious though they may be. How can you avoid being kidded about your preference for what is a quintessential kid snack? Easy. Call them something more adult-sounding, such as Fruit Strips or Fruit Leather.

Hot Pockets. Last year, Nestle attempted to broaden the Hot Pocket demographic—typically, teen boys and slacker college kids who don’t want to cook or even order pizza—by introducing gourmet versions featuring angus beef, hickory ham to appeal to adult foodies.

Halloween. October 31 used to be about children trick-or-treating door to door in their neighborhoods. Now it’s the centerpiece of a whole Halloween season where the kids are invited to enjoy only some—but by no means all—of the fun. A year ago, adults spent roughly $1.2 billion on costumes, compared to $1 billion spent on costumes for kids. Roughly 7 out of 10 college-aged adults plan on dressing up for Halloween, which explains the sales success of oddly “sexy” costumes of pizza slices or corn fields. Or sexy nuns. Adults also tend to spend more on their costumes than they do on Halloween outfits for kids. So that explains why companies are marketing the holiday to adults more and more. Still, it’s hard to come up with a good explanation for the existence of the Sexy Pizza Costume.

MONEY Sports

Marketing Jeter’s Farewell Season, by the Numbers

New York Yankees batter Derek Jeter follows through on his swing
Ray Stubblebine—Reuters

Derek Jeter, by far the most respected and marketable baseball star in the modern era, is retiring this season. To commemorate the end of the Captain's historic career, fans have been asked to open their wallets early and often.

No matter how widely Derek Jeter is beloved in the sports world, many have questioned the relentless marketing of this, his final season, including a few critics even in the New York City media. “It’s such bad taste,” former New York Jets quarterback and current sports radio personality Boomer Esiason said in early September, referring to the “cheese-ball move” of rolling out new products and endlessly merchandising Jeter’s farewell season. “It kind of goes against everything Derek Jeter has been.”

Nonetheless, the sales have rolled on throughout the season and have picked up pace as the end nears. Here are some numbers that show how #2 has undeniably been #1 in terms of marketing and merchandising during his final season in pinstripes:

2 Number of epic tribute commercials released by long-time Jeter sponsors (Nike, Gatorade) this season commemorating his goodbye.

29 Number of different styles of Jeter baseball hats listed for sale at the Major League Baseball site.

$8.95, $260 Lowest get-in prices listed of late at StubHub for Orioles-Yankees tickets on, respectively, Wednesday, September 24, and Thursday, September 25. The latter is the last regular season home game, and therefore Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium. According to the ticket resale aggregation site TiqIQ.com, the average price paid on the secondary market for the game on the 25th has been in the neighborhood of $650 to $750.

$50, $210 Lowest get-in prices listed of late at StubHub for the Yankees-Red Sox tickets on, respectively, Saturday, September 27, and Sunday, September 28. The latter is the final game of the regular season, and therefore Jeter’s final game, and it’s being played at Fenway Park. The average price on the secondary market for a seat to the final game has been around $550, according to TiqIQ.

50-50 How the vote broke down among fans weighing in at a Yankees blog as to whether it was a good or bad idea for the Yankees to wear a Jeter commemorative patch on their jerseys—an extremely rare way to honor a still-active player.

$149 Starting price for tickets to a Jeter Q&A session on Monday, September 22, at the Millennium Hotel in Manhattan. Steiner Sports, the event host, has advertising a package with a Mezzanine Level seat and a Derek Jeter Commemorative Final Season Bat for $299. VIP packages, which include lunch, a signed baseball, and premium seating, go as high as $2,999.

296 Number of Jeter products available for sale at the sports apparel site fanatics.com. The site reports that Jeter sales lately are up 2,700% compared with the same period a year ago, and that Jeter merchandise has been purchased this season in all 50 states and 30+ countries. Among the top sellers lately is a commemorative Jeter fitted Yankees hat retailing for $36.95.

$410 Asking price for one of Jeter’s game socks (used, of course, and highly collectible).

$500 Minimum bid for one of four special pairs of Derek Jeter Jordan cleats being auctioned off to benefit Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation. At last check, bids were well over $2,000, with roughly four weeks to go before the auctions close.

$695 to $795 Range of prices for a Captains Series Celebrating Derek Jeter watch from Movado, which went on sale in recent weeks.

$12,500 Price paid by a collector for a home run ball hit by Jeter in August at a Toronto Blue Jays home game. The Blue Jays put the ball up for sale immediately after the game. “A collector from Tennessee offered $8,000, I said $15,000, we met in between,” a Blue Jays staffer explained. It’s the highest price ever commanded for a piece of baseball memorabilia sold by the team.

$50,000 Highest price Jeter item listed recently at Steiner Sports. It’s a game-used road grey jersey and pants worn by the Captain this past August, in a matchup against the Baltimore Orioles. On the cheap end of the spectrum are unsigned 6″ x 10″ photos of Jeter from 2009 and wrist bands commemorating his 3,000th hit that can be had for under $4.

$19 Million+ Amount in grants awarded by Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation since the nonprofit was launched in 1996.

$24 Million Estimated earnings by Derek Jeter for 2014, according to Forbes, including roughly $15 million in salary and $9 million in endorsements.

MONEY Advertising

Newspapers Are Charging Extra … to Give You More Ads

stack of newspapers
iStock

Some newspapers plan on charging subscribers extra for certain "premium issues," such as one on Thanksgiving. What makes them "premium"? Loads and loads of Black Friday ads.

Jim Romenesko reported this week that both the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press have notified subscribers that they will be charged extra to receive issues of the paper published on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps other days as well. The Tribune informed subscribers that special “premium issues” such as the one on Turkey Day will incur an additional charge of $2 apiece, while the Free Press plans on charging print subscribers the Sunday cover price ($1 more) for the Thanksgiving paper.

Why? Apparently, it’s because the paper will be overloaded with Black Friday circulars. “The Thanksgiving print edition includes Black Friday sale information, coupons and details about incredible door busters!” a Free Press letter told subscribers.

The Thanksgiving papers are heavier than normal editions, so they’re therefore costlier to produce and deliver. Still, ads have traditionally been sold in order to keep newsstand and subscriber prices down. Bizarrely, here we have an instance in which the presence of more ads is being used as a justification to charge customers extra. As the Consumerist pointed out, in the case of the Tribune, “they’re calling this paper a ‘premium issue’ even though the majority of the extra content is advertisements. That companies pay the newspaper for.”

Granted, “extreme couponers” and Black Friday shopping fanatics love such ads. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru has explained that the pull-out ad sections of Sunday papers are essentially a “destination” that a sizable segment of consumers enjoy wading into and exploring. The fact that Sunday circulars are more of a draw for some “readers” than, say, the editorials or even the sports section has to depress the already depressed journalistic masses to no end.

As for the loyal subscribers who actually read the paper and put up with ads in order to keep print prices down, they’re surely peeved by the moves being attempted by the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press. At least both papers told Romenesko that if subscribers are upset with the extra charges, they can be credited the amounts by calling up customer service.

MONEY Odd Spending

Got $9,000 Lying Around? Join the New Facebook for the Rich

The days of slumming it on Facebook are over for anyone willing to shell out a big down payment and then a few thousand bucks a year.

MONEY

New iPhones Sell for $2,000 on eBay, Asking Prices Hit $6,000

Customers waiting in line for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
Customers wait in line outside Apple Inc.'s Ginza store ahead of the launch of the company's new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Apple's redesigned iPhones with bigger screens goes on sale in Japan on Sept. 19. Yuriko Nakao—Bloomberg via Getty Images

People are paying double the retail price of the new iPhones because they can't bear the thought of having to wait a few weeks to own one.

At around 11 a.m. EST Monday morning, 19 bids had been submitted to an eBay auction of an iPhone 6 Plus Space Gray 128 GB. It was unlocked (so the owner wouldn’t necessarily be tied into a two-year contract), and it was confirmed to be shipped on the first day the new iPhones are available for purchase, Friday, September 19.

With about 30 minutes left in the auction, the price for the phone hit $1,900, which wound up being the winning bid. That’s astronomical compared to what most people think of as the list price for such a unit, $499. But the $499 price tag is a subsidized rate you get in exchange for being locked into a two-year contract with a wireless provider. The true retail price for an unlocked version of this unit is $949, which makes the premium bidders were willing to pay seem slightly more reasonable. Still, $1,900 is double the list price!

And what does the buyer get for paying such a premium? Essentially, all the buyer gets is his hands on the phone a few weeks earlier than he would otherwise. Apple pre-orders for the new iPhones broke records, with some four million orders placed during the first 24 hours they were accepted.

Because of the early surge in demand, consumers who haven’t already placed their orders are now typically being forced to wait at least until October to possess the new iPhone 6. And the wait for the new gadget’s big brother, the larger-screen iPhone 6 Plus—which measures 5.5 inches, compared with 4.7 inches for the regular iPhone 6 and 4 inches for the 5S—is even longer. Apple is warning that shipping on new orders will be delayed three or four weeks, and CNBC reported that certain orders (specifically, the iPhone 6 Plus from AT&T) won’t be available for shipping for five or six weeks.

For some people, that’s just too long to wait. So they’re turning to eBay and Craigslist, where there are plenty of eager sellers willing to part with their freshly ordered gadgets if doing so means quick and sizable profits. The Wire noted that last Friday, when iPhone preorders were first being accepted (and were apparently difficult to place due to strong demand), eBay listings for the devices hovered up around $2,000. One 64GB iPhone 6 Plus appears to have sold on eBay last Thursday for $3,950.

As of Monday at midday, a search for “iPhone 6″ at eBay returned more than 130,000 results. The variety of listings, including locked and unlocked models featuring different permutations of colors, memory, and wireless providers, generally ranged in price from $700 to $1,500. One bold seller had a flat asking price of $6,000 for a gold unlocked 64 GB iPhone 6—the regular one, not the larger 6 Plus.

To some consumers, paying a handsome premium for a hot new device is no crazier than waiting in line overnight, perhaps for weeks, to get one. In both cases, there’s a price being paid, either in one’s time or one’s actual money.

Speaking of waiting in line, that apparently is still a feasible strategy for those who “need” a new iPhone this week and don’t want to pay through the nose for one via eBay. “Additional supply of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be available to walk-in customers on Friday, September 19 at 8:00 a.m. local time at Apple retail stores,” explained an Apple statement about pre-orders issued on Monday. “Both models will also be available on Friday from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, additional carriers and select Apple Authorized Resellers.”

How many “walk-ins” will be able able to buy new iPhones on Friday? That remains unclear. Certainly, at the busiest, highest-profile Apple Stores like the one on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, you probably don’t have a prayer unless you’re already camped outside the store. For quieter locations selling the iPhones starting on Friday, it appears possible that you’ll be able to walk in and buy one, though it’s advisable to get on line early and expect big crowds. Also, the pickings may be slim, so you might not get the exact model or color you want.

Alternately, you could do the sane, mature, and responsible thing and deny yourself immediate gratification. Just order exactly what you want and wait a few weeks for it to arrive, without paying a premium to sketchy online sellers, and without losing any sleep waiting outside for a store to open. Or, God forbid, stick with the phone you have.

MONEY consumer psychology

How Waiting in Line to Buy an iPhone 6 Is Like Burning Man

140908_EM_BurningManiPhone
Dawn at Robot Heart, "Burning Man," Nevada, 2014. Marc Whalen

The people who line up for hours, sometimes days, to buy gadgets, sneakers, video games, and Black Friday "doorbusters" think there's nothing nonsensical about their behavior.

Rumors have been swirling about Apple’s iPhone 6 for weeks, and the big public unveiling of the hyped new gadget is set to take place on September 9. The phone itself—which may or may not actually be called the iPhone 6—won’t be available for purchase until September 19.

Nonetheless, it’s been widely reported that people started camping outside the Apple Store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on August 31, 10 days before the new iPhone would be introduced, and nearly three weeks before customers could actually buy one. As Quartz reported, the four individuals waiting in line (a married couple and a pair of cousins who camp out every time there’s a new Apple product) are being paid for their time. But the fact that the line—which will surely grow as the purchase date nears—is being used as a marketing ploy by other companies demonstrates just how much of a cultural phenomenon such events have become.

While the rollout of a new Apple gadget is a high-profile, much-mocked example of consumers totally unnecessarily waiting in line, it’s hardly the only example. A week ago, more than 200 people waited to be among the first customers inside a newly opened Los Angeles-area Dunkin’ Donuts. Consumers have also been known to wait for hours and even sleep overnight just for the right to buy food at new Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger restaurants. They also wait just to shop at Trader Joe’s when there’s a new one in the neighborhood, and to buy stuff like video game consoles and Nike sneakers when they’re new to the marketplace. The lines outside sneaker stores have on occasion been magnets for violence and riots, even shootings thanks to loads of antsy, irritable customers eager to get their hands on the new kicks.

Then there’s Black Friday, which in recent years has drawn shoppers to go to such lengths as camping outside Best Buy for two weeks in early winter.

Sure, there are some rewards for such endurance. The first guy in line at the California Dunkin’ Donuts (who camped out 30 hours before the doors open) got a free year’s worth of coffee, for instance, while the next 99 customers got a swag bag full of DD merchandise. Those waiting in line on Black Friday get access to doorbuster deals that, presumably, folks sleeping in on the day after Thanksgiving miss out on. The fanboys camped outside stores for iPhones and Air Jordans and Play Stations get pride in ownership of the latest models before the masses, as well as the bragging rights that come with that. In cases where merchandise is being sold only in a limited supply (as with Nike), waiting in a gigantic line might be the only option for a fanatic to take possession of the hottest gadget or accessory.

But let’s be honest: However cool these rewards seem, they’re never worth the tradeoff of sleeping outside on a curb for days. There’s just no logic to it. We live in a time, after all, of one-click buying, same-day delivery, online grocery shopping, and startups that deliver quarters for laundry. None of these services would have been created if it wasn’t clear that people hate having to wait for pretty much anything. People try to save time at every turn.

So why are so many people willing to waste their time waiting outside a store or restaurant? According to Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, author, and frequent contributor to MONEY, the willingness of these consumers to wait in line “has nothing to do with the freebies, or buying, or stuff.” Instead, people are drawn to participate in what they perceive as a cultural event, with like-minded people.

“It’s about human connection,” says Yarrow. “It’s an excuse to be with other people, to be part of a festival or event. It’s basically a mini Burning Man. People with shared values hang out together and have something to talk about.”

(Side note: The only woman among the first four people camped outside the Apple Store is named Moon Ray, which sounds just like a pseudonym someone would take on during the course of the hedonistic Burning Man festival that takes place every year at summer’s end in the Nevada desert.)

In certain circles, the bragging rights factor is undeniable as well. There is the “allure of being first—it’s it’s a badge,” says Yarrow. “There is a demographic that feels wily and special when they are first or get an elusive item before others.”

But first and foremost, Yarrow—who “won’t stand in line for anything, ever”—says that the seemingly bizarre line-waiting phenomenon makes sense because it’s not really about the stuff people are waiting for. People are there for the experience of waiting itself. They want to be a part of the spectacle, and they want to be able to say that they were there. Sorta like Burning Man.

Interestingly enough, an ongoing subplot to this year’s festival was the idea that Burning Man has been ruined by the rich, wealthy tech titans in particular, who have been accused of destroying the creative, capitalism-free spirit of the event by arriving via private jet with cooks and masseuses in tow. Likewise, there are plenty of fans of Nike and Apple that hate the idea of some rich person buying a spot in line or paying someone to wait in line to buy the new Air Jordans or iPhone. Doing so spoils the spirit and camaraderie of the event—which, again, is what the wait is really all about.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser