Friday, August 11, 2017

Can Las Vegas Teach The Book Industry How To Gamble On Pricing?

On a trip this past week to America’s sin capital, I was reminded of the motto, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  That slogan is never truer when applied to one’s wallet.  

Oh, my – that place is crazy expensive.  It didn’t used to be that way.  And this is coming from a New Yorker who knows about rip-off prices.

If you think about it, the need for Las Vegas to exist is not quite what it used to be. At one time if you wanted to gamble legally in this country it was to be in Las Vegas.  

It used to draw people in with 99-cent breakfasts, lunch buffets for a few bucks, premier shows, and a strip of unique hotels that drew in some interesting characters.  Now, those deals are gone goodbye and the character and charm, of Vegas has succumbed to corporate pressure to commercialize the place without any personality.  In fact, the strip looks very mall-like. Every hotel resembles the next one, each filled with over-priced restaurants, shops, and a casino that dominates the hotel and follows you wherever you go.

I first visited Las Vegas in 1990.  It was transitioning from its downtown strip that became dated, seedy, crime-ridden, and run-down, a reminder of the mob-corrupt ways of the past.  It was beginning to celebrate skyscraper hotels that had appeal to travelers from all over the world.  But in subsequent visits there, including two trips around a decade ago, it was trending in a way that would leave it in position for where it’s at today – a huge bazaar of gambling, drinking, and shopping.  They still have a lot of shows that get sold out but there’s something lacking, mainly reasonable prices.

Everything’s a rip-off.  Starbucks in Vegas charged me 50% more for my already over-priced fare.  The hotels charge insane prices and still pound you with extra fees.  Want a check out that’s a little later?  Try paying $90.  Want to have a cabana by the pool?  It could go for $800 a day.  How about a bottle of water from the gift shop?  Shell out $4.50.

Not everyone in Vegas is a high-roller or well-to-do. I would venture to say that the vast majority who bet do not leave with more than what they came with.  So it’s not enough to rob you at the casino. They need to escalate charges on anything you do or buy.  How about a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon?  That’s almost $2,300 for four people for four hours. Want to go to a nearby gun range?  It could be over $1,000 a person. Want to see Penn & Teller, a classic but aging strip act:  Shell out over $100 per ticket.

So why do I rail against Vegas after having a good trip and having fun stories to share?  Because it was unnecessarily expensive and it taught me a lesson that can be applied to the book industry.

It should raise its prices, especially for digital books. If Vegas, with its outrageous prices and high level of competition, can be successful, why can’t the book industry follow suit?

Stop selling based on price and discounts. Start selling on the real value – great story, great writing, great research. Don’t sell yourself short. Rather than authors trying to underprice or outbid each other for chump change, they should be like the casinos and see how they can outcharge each other.

Now, of course, I don’t want to advocate that authors rip off readers or that the industry name a higher price just because it feels like it.  I’m just saying let’s experiment.  Let’s jack up prices for premier authors and the elite best-sellers.  They deserve it and can help raise the bar for others. Think about it.  Go to a system of tier-priced books.  Your standard hardcover can’t be $25-$30 all around.  No. Top shelf books could be $40.  Others $30, and maybe unknown authors for $20 or $25.  Readers need a scale by which to discern buying choices. We can’t have a low ceiling on books that then get dwindled down by opportunists and insecure authors looking to drum up a following by giving their book away for 99 cents or a few bucks.

So let’s take a look at what Vegas does well:

1.      It sells itself as a destination without using a specific hotel.  Book publishing needs to promote reading books – without pushing a specific publisher, genre, or author.

2.      Makes itself sound fun, mysterious, and memorable.  Books can offer all of that, too.

3.      It holds out the promise of having your life changed by a big win.  Books offer readers the promise of life-changing ideas and information.

4.      Vegas can handle any capacity.  It just adds hotels as needed and constantly remodels its properties.  Publishing can handle any number of readers interested in consuming their product and constantly puts out new titles and reprints as needed.

5.      Going to Vegas is a repeatable act. One can come often, each time to return to new activities.  Readers can repeat buying and reading books, each time experimenting with new authors and a diverse array of genres.

You may not think of Vegas and book publishing as having anything in common, but book publishing should take a gamble and find a way to encourage tier-pricing for its price-depressed-resources.

“Stand for something or you will fall for anything.”
--Rosa Parks

“Change before you have to.”
--Jack Welch

“Business, like life, is all about how to make people feel.  It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”
--Danny Meyer
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
--Henry David Thoreau

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
--Stephen R. Covey

“Maybe the reason it seems that price is all your customers care about is that you haven’t given them anything else to care about.”
--Seth Godin

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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