Guest Column: Book Pricing: Rein in the Aggression

Is competing on price a race to the bottom? What's the value of a book? These and other questions are addressed by a new Simon-Kucher & Partners study.

What is a book worth?

That question took on new meaning in 2012. The form of the book itself came under scrutiny after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in April against Apple and five major publishers. Using phrases such as “revolutionary change,” “dramatic explosion in sales,” “a variety of benefits” and “considerably cheaper to produce,” the government drew a clear distinction between ebooks and their print counterparts.

But print books still represent a significant store of value and opportunity for publishers and retailers. We would like to devote this article to them and their value, and leave ebook pricing aside. Taking a further step back, we would like to approach the question “What is a book worth?” by providing some insights into where readers buy their print books nowadays and why they choose one channel over another.

Our conclusions rely on a comprehensive study that our firm, Simon-Kucher & Partners, conducted earlier this year to understand how American consumers shop for 13 popular categories of products, including print books. Over 1,000 consumers provided feedback on why they buy online, why they buy in stores, whether they expect to buy more online in the future and how bricks-and-mortar retailers could potentially win back committed online buyers.

Three conclusions in particular—all supported by the study—challenge long-held beliefs about the importance of price in the book business, especially the conventional wisdom that a product sold online must be a better deal (read: must be cheaper) than the same product purchased in a traditional store.

1. Convenience is just as important as price—if not more so—when a reader decides to buy a book online.

2. The more consumers buy books online, the less important price is to them.

3. Aggressive price competition will not bring online consumers back to bricks-and-mortar stores.

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