Interesting article by Katy McLaughlin in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal about the surprising sales success of what appears to be the most expensive cookbook on the market. The 2,400 page, 47-pound cookbook titled, Modern Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking was co-written by Nathan Myhrvoid, who before he became a foodie, was actually the first chief technology officer at Microsoft. The book’s list price is actually a whopping $625 but it can be “had” at Amazon for a cool $454.63. The book comes in five volumes.
When the book was first released, critics panned its cover price as being way too high. According to the Ms. McLaughlin:
What exactly, pundits asked, was the target market for a $450 cookbook? Who but a small cadre of professionals wanted to understand the thermodynamics of a broiler or how to make carrot butter in a centrifuge?
At least 45,000 buyers worldwide is the answer, Mr. Myhrvold said when we spoke to him last week. The book has been translated into French, German and Spanish; more translations are soon to come.
“It changes the conventional wisdom about whether people will buy an expensive book if there is value in it,” Mr. Myhrvold said.
But after its first year of sales, it seems that price has clearly driven value. 45,000 buyers is nothing to scoff about in the book business (especially at $450 a pop).
The book is quite technical and also makes the assumption that price is no object when it comes to furnishing the modern kitchen (Probably not a bad assumption given that its readers will have to shell out almost $500 to have look at all the recipes and techniques). In any case, here’s what one reviewer had to say about Volume 2: Techniques and Equipment:
“…this volume covers cooking Sous Vide in depth. Chapter 10 covers equipment for the Modernist Kitchen, and while it's easy to be scared off by the fact that they include a $10,000-$30,000 centrifuge in the "Must-have tools for the Modernist Kitchen" list.”
I don’t think I’ve used a centrifuge since high school science class. It was a bad experience then, and I'm not about to spend ten grand (or more) to repeat the experience today.
In any case, the article does make the point that the best way to sell an expensive cookbook like this is to, well, make it expensive. We’ve talked before here about instances where price drives value. Here’s yet another example of that phenomenon.
Here's the takeaway: We're all familiar with the term “you get what you pay for”—but does it really factor into buyers’ perceptions of value today? In the case of this $454.63 cookbook, it seems like it does.
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.
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