Evaluating Harvard Business’s Price Increase Announcement

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A friend forwarded to me this notification by Harvard Business Publishing announcing an upcoming price increase.  Here is the text of the mailing.

“To assist you in planning, we are writing about upcoming changes to the price of HBP course materials, effective July 2016. We know that the cost of course materials affects your institution and is of particular concern to students. For this reason, we increase our prices infrequently and proceed with great care when we do enact a change.

“On July 1, 2016, the price of case studies, articles, and book chapters will increase by 7.5%.Because we recognize the high cost of education and are committed to keeping the price of HBP content affordable, we have not raised the price of these materials since 2011.

“As a part of this increase we will introduce mechanisms that allow you to manage the cost of HBP materials either at the course level and/or for your institution overall. These options will include customized coursepacks, institutional reporting tools, and payment based on student enrollment.

“These options will be available on a trial basis in early 2016, with the opportunity to subscribe to selected services/tools for the 2016-2017 academic year. In January, we will send you detailed information about the new services and tools mentioned above. Until then, please let us know if we can address any questions by contacting …”

Overall this is a well done announcement.  They build empathy by acknowledging the pain of price increases.  They demonstrate it is a difficult decision for them by saying they haven’t done this since 2011 (5 years ago).  They sound as if they truly care and try hard to not raise prices.  (Maybe they do really care.  There is no way to know.)

Another thing they do well, almost surreptitiously, is point out that it really doesn’t effect the educator, the person to whom the notice was sent, who is also the person who decides what material the students must purchase.  Notice the first paragraph emphasizes it hurts the student and the institution, but omits any pain to the educator.

Although I’m impressed with this announcement, I could offer them one suggestion for improvement.  When they do this again (in 5 years?) they should emphasize that their costs went up.  The announcement didn’t say why they are raising prices.  They could have changed the last sentence in the second paragraph to read something like this:

“Because we recognize the high cost of education and are committed to keeping the price of HBP content affordable, we have not raised the price of these materials since 2011, even though the cost of producing them (materials and labor) has gone up year after year.”

The only explanation for a price increase that people accept is that costs went up.  Surely over the last 5 years some of their costs have gone up.  It is not a lie.

What have you learned from this blog?  Hopefully, it’s when (if) you increase your prices, you should try very hard to sound empathetic, reluctant, and blame your increasing costs.