Another piece of Internet Mythology appears to bite the dust: A new survey reveals Amazon is not the cheapest place to buy books. In fact, it may actually be one of the most expensive – as long as you’re looking for something outside of the site’s top 20 highest-selling offerings.
Marketing consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners compared pricing on the top 100 best-selling print books in the U.K. between October 30 and November 9 from eight different online book retailers, and discovered that when it comes to anything outside of Amazon’s top 20 titles, you’d be better off looking elsewhere for bargains. In fact, the chart position of the book you’re looking for is likely to impact the size of discount that Amazon offers. While Amazon’s prices for its 20 best-selling books were, on average, six percent lower than its competitors, books ranked between 21 and 50 on its sales chart actually came with a 13 percent premium compared to other booksellers. The remaining books in the Amazon top 100 appear to be marked up by 15 percent.
“Many booksellers think of Amazon as this mythical competitor, just incredibly low on price – an insurmountable adversary, impossible for them to overcome, but our research has revealed that much of that is just outdated myth,” explained Kyle Poyar, a consultant in pricing structures at Simon-Kucher. “The reality is that Amazon needs to make money like everyone else, but they understand consumer buying behaviour, and use those insights to be able to give off a low-price image, while still not necessarily being the lowest price.”
Poyar argued that instead of viewing Amazon as a one-stop shop for the cheapest books available, it would make more sense to consider Amazon as simply taking advantage of the benefits that come from bulk purchasing and supply and demand: “[We] found that Amazon was much more like [British supermarket chain] Tesco: supermarkets offer the staples, like eggs, milk and nappies, at a very competitive price, and make more of their money on the slower-moving products.”
It’s worth remembering that Simon-Kucher & Partners were only including British retailers in this survey – besides Amazon’s British arm, the survey looked at pricing from the online catalogs of high-street stores WH Smith and Blackwells, as well as AbeBooks, Alibris, the Book Depository, BookFellas and Kennys. The sheer volume of likely sales in the U.S. could trigger significant price breaks. Alternatively, it is possible that U.S. booksellers simply do not offer the same kind of competitive pricing structures that U.K. retailers do. An Amazon spokesperson briefly responded to the survey, stating the supply and demand pricing for top 20 books “is not the case and we aim to offer competitive prices on every book that we list.”
Whatever you choose to believe, the easiest takeaway is this: Shop around. For the most part, Amazon offers extremely competitive pricing, but a quick research could save you that pretty penny.