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    Meissner Research Group

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    Meissner Research Group — Operations Strategy and Pricing Management Blog

    Random House Fears E-Book Price War on iPad

    March 30th, 2010 by Joern Meissner

    The iPad, Apple’s newest technological wonder, will be released on April 3rd, just a few short weeks from now, but one thing probably missing from its advertised digital bookstore, iBookstore, will be the books from the world’s sales leader in publishing, Random House.

    In the Financial Times article ‘Random House fears iPad price war’, Random House chief executive Markus Dohle said that Random House was still reviewing their options, as they fear that Apple’s pricing policy is of an interest to their stakeholders. The publisher was still in discussions with their agents and authors over the decision.

    Random House is a division of Bertelsmann, whose profits declined over the past year, thanks in large part to the recession. And while the company believes they will make gains this year, they are not sure that allowing Apple to control the pricing policy of their e-books is the way to go about it.

    Apple’s current e-book policy is that publishers will set the price for their own books, with Apple receiving 30 cents off every dollar. While the other five major publishers (which account for nearly all of Random House’s competition) have already signed on with Apple and their iBookstore, this new pricing scheme is very different from standard publishing policies.

    In standard publishing pricing, the publishers sell books to the bookstores at a wholesale rate. The bookstores then make a profit by marking up the books from the wholesale rate. Bookstores can even return unsold books. Even Amazon, one of the world’s top bestsellers and one of the darlings of e-commerce, sells its book this way. While the publishers and Apple both agree that e-books are here to stay, neither is quite sure how to actually price them successfully to make both companies and their customers happy.

    In the end, Random House must realize that a price war of any type is not beneficial to their company. If Random House takes Apple’s offer of controlling their own prices, they must quickly realize that trying to price their bestsellers at a price lower than their competitors will only result in spend-thrifty customers and low revenues. And if Random House decides to take Apple’s deal and then prices their books far too low, customers will always expect that price. And they will now be simply a few touches on the touchscreen away from picking up a book from Harper-Collins or Macmillan instead.

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    The Price of the Digital Revolution

    February 24th, 2010 by Joern Meissner

    While it’s common knowledge that the music industry was forever altered when iTunes, with its over 125 million customers, came onto the scene and allowed music fans to download songs for only 99 cents. In the past few years, it was the publishing world that has been changed, with digital book eaders like the Kindle and Nook, and online newspaper programs, like the recently mentioned Times Reader. Now it appears, it’s TV’s turn.

    According to the article ‘Networks Wary of Apple’s Push to Cut Show Prices’ by Brian Stelter (New York Times, February 16th, 2010), Apple executives are in talks with the heads of all the major television networks to plan a widespread price decrease for downloading TV episodes from iTunes.

    Each TV show episode, with the exception of a few promotions from PBS, currently sells for a $1.99 per download. But for Apple, the magic number has always been 99 cents. It was the 99-cent price point that allowed iTunes to nearly overnight become the world’s main, and in most peoples’ eyes the only, place to buy music. iTunes’s 99 cent price point could very easily be said to be responsible for the end of the CD and probably helped lead to the end of nationwide electronic store Circuit City.

    Apple executives are said to believe that by lowering TV episodes, released on iTunes only the day after their original broadcast on television, to the 99 cent price point could allow the mainstreaming of TV episode downloading, just as it did for music. With several new, cheaper models of digital and portal TV quickly becoming available, like Apple’s upcoming iPad, Apple believes this is its next goldmine waiting to be harvested.

    TV executives on the other hand are not so sure. TV shows can cost millions of dollars to produce, and it normally takes hundreds of people (all of whom need to be paid) to produce a single episode. Unlike songs, which are often created in studios by a handful of professionals, TV shows will need far higher sales to return profitable returns.

    On the other hand, if lowering the price point does help buying TV episodes become part of the mainstream world culture, as buying songs from iTunes has, then it might be worth it. Consumers have purchased over 10 billion songs from iTunes, while they have only purchased 375 million TV episodes, a huge difference in profits. And considering that there will also always be fewer episodes available then songs, this difference could translate into the change being well worth the risk for TV executives.

    As with most digital products, there is little additional cost, so this situation is not about profit maximization, but simply revenue optimization. The refusal of the TV executives to lower the price indicates that they believe the market is not elastic, e.g. they do not believe there would be a volume gain sufficient enough to compensate for the lower price. In this particular case the calculation is easy, as a price decrease from $1.99 to $0.99 must result in doubling the volume to make sense. Apple, on the other hand, would probably be satisfied if it breaks even, as long as this fuels hardware sales.

    A $0.99 price point could lead to a large demand raise, probably even of 100 percent. On the other hand, it could be that TV content is already bought by users that are less likely to download files from a peer-to-peer file sharing network, and demand is not actually elastic, which would be required if the demand was to raise high enough. In any case, it will be interesting to see what is going to happen.

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    The New York Times: Internal Struggle over Pricing of iPad Edition

    February 19th, 2010 by Joern Meissner

    The New York Times may be the world’s most recognized newspaper, but even they cannot withstand the changing times forced upon the journalism sector by the internet. With free news available to all online, newspapers are trying to find a way to remain both relevant and profitable.

    According to the report ‘Turf War at the New York Times: Who Will Control the iPad?’ at Gawker.com, a New York City-based media rumor and news website, The New York Times has just entered into a battle against itself over the not-yet-released iPad. The central tenant of this argument is the pricing for the new Times app for the iPad. The print circulation team wants the price to be $20 to $30 per month per customer, while the digital side wants both control over the app and the pricing to be placed at $10.

    To break down the argument on both sides, the print circulation team represents old school journalism and the control of the Times print edition – the edition that is quickly becoming unprofitable. They want to use the higher pricing on the app to leverage the costs of the print edition and to keep it running as it always has. This would also mean a portion of the control over the app’s finances and features would be in the hands of the print circulation team.

    Their opposition, the team in charge of the Times’ current digital content, is saying that the price is far too high when compared to other online newspapers, especially considering two major factors. The first is that several other major newspapers have agreed to hold off on forcing online customers to pay subscription fees until 2011. The iPad will be out much sooner than this. The second is that current Times subscribers to the Times Reader (which can be downloaded onto any computer, unlike the iPad version, which will be exclusively for the iPad) currently only pay $15. The digital team doesn’t want that much of a difference between pricing.

    Unfortunately for the digital content team, it appears to Gawker that New York Times Media Group President Scott Heekin-Canedy is currently siding with the print circulation team. In another report by Gawker titled ‘The New York Times’s iPad Fight Was Part of a Longer Civil War,’ the answer is given that this is all to try to protect the failing print edition at any costs.

    Essentially, this battle is not new for the Times. When the Times Reader was introduced, insiders reported that the digital team wanted a price of $6. Instead, the price was kept significantly higher to stop customers from ending their subscriptions to the print edition of the paper.

    In a journalism world where magazines and newspapers are shutting down every day, why would the industry leader back away from new technologies and try to impose yesteryear’s pricing on today’s digital models? Customers in today’s market can easily realize that the production costs to create a web or app version of The New York Times is far below the production cost of the printed model. The customers aren’t going to pay for what they see as too high a price.

    Essentially, if the Times goes with a $30 iPad subscription fee, why would anyone bother to pay for it when they can get the real thing for just a little more? The move could be self-sabotaging or it could prove that customers are willing to pay for the convenience and quality of the New York Times when so many other free sources for news are available. In short, only time will tell which route the Times will take and which one it should have taken.

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