One of the funny things about publishing is that you can sometimes find a roomful of people all spending an awful lot of time discussing something that probably isn't all that important, like "Maybe the piece of cake on the cover should be bigger," or "Should the category be current events slash business? Or business slash current events?" One of these issues can be book prices.
It's not that book prices are never important-- when the big chains suddenly mark books down by 50% or more, their sales do pick up. And if you're trying to launch a new novelist, it can make a difference if the book is a $14 paperback compared to the $25 or $26 a well-known bestselling author can command for a new hardcover. Of course most people who are buying that bestselling author's hardcover are actually buying it at chain stores or warehouse clubs that mark it down anywhere between 20-50% off the cover price.
But the other day, I found myself in a conversation about prices that verged on the absurd. Have you ever noticed how some books' prices end in 95 cents, some in 99 cents, and some are in full dollars? Here are a few comments from that conversation:
I hate .95 and .99 pricing. As a consumer, I feel like they just think I'm stupid, like, duh, I'm really going to think 19.95 is dramatically less than $20.00 and it will affect whether I buy something?
.99 prices seem weird to me. I mean, a penny isn't that big a savings. But .95 seems like you're actually getting something.
I don't know why, but I am totally susceptible to that in stores-- for some reason, $14.95 does kind of seem more attractive than $15.00. But as a publisher, I'd rather keep that extra 5 cents!
To me the whole debate just seems silly. Pennies should be abolished, and nickels don't even seem all that useful either. I'm just glad we sell books and not gas, where you get into that nine tenths of a cent thing... but here's another quote from that conversation:
Why do we have "price points," anyway? Why are books never $15.39? Or $42.95? In the lower range, you get things priced at $20, $21, $21.95, $22.00, $22.50... but after a while, there are some prices you just never use! If you want to price a book at $32.95, someone will say that's a weird price point and why don't we either make it $29.95 or $35.00!
Have you ever noticed that things don't tend to have those weird price points? I actually went to a strange little shop in Park Slope years ago that prided itself on giving things weird prices like $6.74, or $102.66, just for the heck of it. Sometimes they'd even have multiples of the same object with different prices-- one would be $11.33 and another on the shelf would be $13.20. But that was a place run by the McSweeney's people that was deliberately poking fun at the whole concept of stores and trying to be weird...
What do you think about even dollars vs. those .95 or .99 prices? Does the extra penny or nickel really make it seem more expensive?