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April 29, 2011

U of C experts chat for cash

Office hours at the U of C might be worth more than a few brownie points. According to one new website, an hour-long video chat with economics professor Gary Becker is worth $5,000.

The 1992 Nobel Laureate, along with U of C economics professor and bestselling author of Freakonomics Steven Levitt and 24 other experts, is selling his time on expertinsight.com, a tutoring video-chat service.

The site was founded by Brandon Adams, a professional poker player who taught in Harvard University’s economics department for eight years. Adams, who got the idea for the site after charging $300 to $400 for poker video coaching, believes there is a demand for expert coaching, and hopes to expand the model to other disciplines.

Joining Becker and Levitt are Stephen Dubner, Levitt’s Freakonomics co-author, and Nate Silver (AB ‘00), founder of The New York Times politics blog “FiveThirtyEight”.

The site, which cost $450,000 to launch, takes a 30 percent commission on the hourly rate set by the individual expert, according to the April 22 Vancouver Sun article “Website Offers ‘Coaches’ For $5,000 An Hour.” Launched April 18, the site aims to become profitable by 2013.

Levitt said that the site is an example of how the Internet reduces search and transaction costs, turning websites into markets for niche services, the Sun reported.

In a promotional video chat between Dubner and Becker available on YouTube, the two discuss a variety of issues, from the future of America’s role in the global economy to Becker’s weekly tennis games with three graduate students.

Becker said in an email that while he might continue to do future video chats, he has no regular affiliation with expertinsight.com.

The site also offers the insights of 13 poker players, three sports coaches, and two investors.

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