If you follow behavioral economists like Dan Ariely, who I recently interviewed as part of the CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversations, you will know that there is such a thing as anchoring when it comes to pricing. Basically you can set an anchor for the value of a good and then have people judge all offerings within that space against that anchor. Anchoring is especially important for new product offerings – the ones for which people do not have an assigned value for – like the iPhone when it came out or the Amazon Kindle.
Let’s take a look at the differences between the product pricing strategies for those two products. The iPhone was introduced at $600, only to be reduced two months later to $400. Of course $400 looked like a great deal – when the anchor had been set at $600. And as Dan Ariely explains in a recent MIT Sloan Management Review interview $200 iPhones today look like an even better deal.
The Amazon Kindle on the other hand was announced with books at $9.95 – a subsidized price as Amazon is paying publishers more than that. But that set the anchor for the value of a book on Kindle in the mind of consumers. Now that they raised many books to $15 and up, it does not look like a good deal anymore – in fact it looks like it’s not worth switching to electronic versions of the book anymore. And the Amazon Kindle boards are full of protests by angry customers who are calling for boycotts.
Would Amazon have sold fewer Kindle’s if it had set the price of a book at $15 to start with, and tout some of the other benefits of reading on a Kindle – like searchability, note taking, etc.? It’s hard to prove of course, but I do believe that I would have bought the two Kindles that I bought so far with books at $15 and not feel as bad as I did when they increased their price. Subsidizing prices in a new product category is as bad a strategy as having free offerings to stimulate usage in a new category.