Something is rotten in the state of spanners. Yes, you read that correctly. In order to get the three spanners I needed to start maintaining my bike properly, I had to buy three sets of spanners. This was when the nearest DIY shop to where I was working was the (frankly mediocre) Homebase, and they had choices of a set of spanners lacking a 15mm or a set lacking a 17mm. Now my nearest bike shop is Denton’s (ditto) and I’m keen to keep servicing my own bike, as you would be if you waited a week for a simple back-wheel tool to not in any way, shape or form be ordered in as promised (ordered in? What do the mechanics use to disassemble back wheels? The raw power of their pimple-covered, hairless biceps? It’s like the “before” panels from adverts in the back of Mad Magazine in there.)
But back to spanners. No, don’t turn away just yet. See, I can buy a set of six spanners for seven quid. Or I can buy the precise size I want (another 15mm) for a fiver. Given I already have some two dozen spanners (exhibiting only perhaps eight varieties within the sets), I’m loathe to buy another set simply for its cheapness, but: why doesn’t the company making cheap spanners make cheap single spanners? Why can I only buy expensive single spanners, or cheap sets?
What economic principle is at work here? It isn’t the principle of competing on marginals, or the elision of bottom line with top line, either of which can normally be used to explain any kind of unusual behaviour in wanton-market economics: both the cheap and expensive spanners are just spanners; both are as easy to store, and have very little (if any) single-unit overhead. I just want. I. Just. Want. A. Single. Cheap. Spanner. I’d pay two quid for one of those six-for-seven ones; how about that?