Price discrimination without coercion: the Humble Ebook Bundle

My latest Guardian column is "Giving online customers the chance to pay what they want works," which describes the thinking behind the Humble Ebook Bundle, a bold name-your-price ebook promo that launches today:

What if the experience of purchasing electronic media was redesigned around making you feel trusted and sincerely appreciated? What if you knew that the lion's share of the money you spent on electronic media went straight to the creator? What if, in short, you knew your honesty would be rewarded with a fair deal for all parties?

Of all the ideas from the heady days of internet futurism, none is as fraught as "price discrimination," the practice of charging different rates to different customers for the same product. Price discrimination is a mainstay of the travel industry, where airlines and hotels try all manner of tricks to try and figure out who's willing to pay more and charge them accordingly.

For example, travellers who won't endure an overnight Saturday stay are presumed to be travelling on business, charging the ticket to someone else, and therefore less price-sensitive. So itineraries with Saturday stays are often much cheaper than those without.

Region-coding on DVDs is a crack at this: the cost of producing a DVD is very low, so the retail price is pretty much arbitrary. The studios thought they could offer goods at one price in rich countries, and a lower price in poor countries, and use region-codes to prevent the flow of cheap versions from the poor world to the rich world. But DVDs actually cost something to produce on a per-unit basis. What about purely digital goods?

Giving online customers the chance to pay what they want works

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