Pricing Digital Content

September 7, 2012

Leaving aside the larger question of business models for a second, let’s tackle what seems like a really simple question. What should be the base unit for pricing digital content? In reality, this is not a simple question at all. Should content be priced by the size of the population a library serves? Sites? Organizational units? It seems like someone is always ending up with a bad deal.

Take, for example, the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership where I work. We are an educational services agency that supports 22 school districts in western New York. 22! Gosh, that’s a lot of districts. Sounds huge . . . until I explain that we serve a combined student population of just under 25,000. Or, to put it into perspective, one pretty normal-sized school district in most parts of the country. Very similar, in fact, to Poudre School District in Colorado, selected for this comparison because it was my first Google result for “25,000 student school district.”

Our Partnership has 22 districts with 54 schools; Poudre is one district with 50 schools. So if content is being priced on a district level Genesee Valley is the big loser, paying 22 times. It might seem, then, that purchasing by school would be a more fair method. Except that Poudre has seven high schools and the Partnership’s districts have 21. We are still paying three times as much simply because we have many small schools.

In the end, it seems that the most fair method for pricing content is by population. Maybe we can devise some units real quick: PP1K, PP10K, PP100K. Price per 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000. Multiples therein to be determined as needed. Only would it be PP10K x 5 or PP100K x 2 for 50,000 students? And how do we handle approaches to the limit and volume price breaks? Argh!

Nothing simple, easy, or quick about this. But as someone trying to buy content for 22 small, rural, poor districts that average 1,100 students per district the lack of an answer is making things quite expensive and difficult.

Any thoughts?