A Pricing Pattern

If you, like me, feel like you miss out on a lot of book sales because of wildly fluctuating book prices, then there may be a good reason for us missing the boat. I think some publishers are trying a new pricing pattern with their books.

Up, Down, Up, Up, Down, Down, Down, Up

Up, Down, Up, Up, Down, Down, Down, Up

Take Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism for instanceFor the past week or so, this book has alternated between its “usual” price of $8.77 and a bunch of much lower price points. One day the book will be at $8.77, the very next down to $4.00, then back to $8.77, then slipping to $3.80 before shooting back to $8.77. This seesaw happens regularly but not with perfect predictability. For instance, one cannot tell exactly when the prices would switch during a day or how much further a book’s price may fall before resettling to its normal $8.77.

In addition to Schweizer’s book, I’ve noticed this seesaw pricing pattern with Doran and Bizony’s Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, Michael Grabell’s Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History, and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. This begs the question of why publishers are systematically varying their book prices in this way.

First, I’m so happy that they are! New pricing models that result in cheap books are a favorite pet topic of mine. Second, I think this type of pricing model has a lot of recommend it. It’s a type of imperfect price discrimination: those with a lower valuation for the books can wait for them to hit their absolute lowest prices while those who want to read the book today may buy the books on their “high price” days. More than that, however, I think this pricing model caters to consumers’ psychology quite well. All of us shoppers like getting bargains. All of us shoppers have “non buyers’ regret” when we miss out on a sale. By mixing in uncertainty or unpredictability with low prices, book publishers are capturing sales that they otherwise may not.

So why do this only with e-books and not print books? (As far as I can tell for all of the books mentioned above, the p-book prices do not experience this seesaw pattern.) I don’t have one convincing answer to this. Perhaps the need to ship out the books and physically process any returns eat into the profit margins too much for publishers/retailers to try this pricing patterns with p-books. Also, I’m not aware of any site that tracks prices for p-book in the same manner as, say, ereaderiq.com does for Kindle books. In this absence, a p-book with fluctuating prices may get less visibility and be less profitable to try.

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