I was reviewing a textbook proposal the other day, and one of the questions the publisher's rep asked me to answer was "If published, what would be a fair price for this work, based on the price of comparable books currently available?" I was very pleasantly surprised to see that publishers do ask for input on that matter - while it remains to be seen how much of the input they use, at least the issue is on their radar screen. The textbook (very interesting, relevant and timely, and when it comes out I'll make sure to review it here) is expected to be of significant length, so a fair price for it isn't obvious. What would capture its expected importance without deterring potential adopters? I'm not going to go into the details, and I won't say what I answered a fair price would be, but as I was thinking about all this, it occurred to me that we unbundle tracks on music albums, why not chapters in textbooks?
Obviously this would apply to the online version of a textbook, not the physical one, but in the same way that we can buy some tracks from an album while others can only be listened to if we buy the whole thing, and the single tracks are priced in such a way that it quickly becomes advantageous to buy the whole album after a few single-track purchases, wouldn't the unbundling of chapters in setting online textbook prices open new revenue management opportunities for publishers while making textbooks more affordable for students and professionals?
Someone who only needs a few chapters would hopefully be able to buy those in an e-book format, say on Amazon, and if he ultimately decides to buy the whole textbook, Amazon (in an ideal world) would be able to tell he already purchased some of the individual chapters and would give him a reduced price to buy the remaining parts of the textbook online or its print version. This could for instance make much sense for parts of the book, bundled in coherent groups of chapters. Of course there is the risk that someone who would have been willing to buy the whole thing would only buy a few chapters, but people who would have looked for used versions of the textbook may also be more willing to pay for specific chapters as e-books. For instance, people who read Harvard Business Review without subscribing pay about $20 per issue of the magazine, so about $15 per textbook chapter sounds about right (HBR does have a great brand recognition and superior content that not every textbook chapter will match), with the actual number also depending on the number of chapters in the textbook, because the price of buying every chapter individually should exceed the "bundled" price by a significant margin. This way, buying half the chapters on a case-by-case basis could amount to the same price as buying the whole book, and motivate students and practitioners who expect to use various parts of the book to buy the entire text.
(As an example, Essentials of Health Care Finance by Louis Gapenski has a Kindle price of $100.83 and 23 chapters, so the per chapter value in the bundled edition is $100.83/23=$4.38. A per-chapter price of $8.99 would allow readers interested in fewer than half the chapters to adopt a piecemeal approach, while it would be in the others' advantage to buy the whole e-book. These numbers could of course be adjusted depending on the demand pattern or once the most in-demand chapters have been identified.)
What do you think? Do you ever buy single tracks of music to avoid buying the whole album? Is there a textbook or reference book you have considered buying but decided against because it was too expensive given the specific chapters you were interested in? Do you think the unbundling of chapters would make online textbooks more affordable and change the dynamics of the market, or do you think it is unlikely to make much of a difference?