At $17.99, The Casual Vacancy eBook Not a Casual Purchase

casualkindleWith her new book, The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling is not going to repeat her Harry Potter mistake and keep the electronic version sequestered away for years. But as far as many e-book fans are concerned, it might as well. The book, publisher-priced by Hachette at $35 and available in hardcover from Amazon for $20.90, will cost a whopping $17.99 in its e-book version, undiscounted, when it goes on sale tomorrow in the US. That’s $1 more than the highest-allowed pre-DoJ settlement Apple iBookstore e-book price band of $16.99.

The reason for this, as PaidContent points out, is that the book is coming out in an important window: between the time publishers had to terminate their contract with Apple and the time they’re required to have entered into contracts that let other e-book stores discount their titles. So they don’t have to be bound by Apple’s price restriction and “most favored nation” clause, but they don’t have to let anybody else mark the book down yet either.

Of course, give it a few weeks for the new contracts to kick in and it’s likely that the book will be marked down—perhaps to Amazon’s standard bestseller price of $9.99, or perhaps to something still a little higher. It will be interesting to see what Amazon does with what is sure to be one of the hottest books this holiday season, as it will go some way toward telling us whether Amazon really does plan to return to its old $9.99 ways, or is going to skew e-book prices higher and keep its hardware prices low instead.

But meanwhile, the publisher gets the benefit of the extra cash from those price-elastic people who absolutely have to have the instant gratification of reading the newest book by one of the best-selling authors of all time right now no matter what it costs—and they get to charge $1 per head more for the privilege than under the old system. All the people who wanted to pay less probably would have waited anyway.

About Chris Meadows (90 Articles)
Chris Meadows, Editor of TeleRead, has been writing about e-books and mobile devices since 1999: first for ThemeStream, later for Jeff Kirvin's Writing on Your Palm, and then for TeleRead starting in 2006. He has also contributed a few articles to The Digital Reader along the way. Chris has bought e-books from Peanut Press/eReader, Fictionwise, Baen, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, the Humble Bundle, and others. He is a strong believer in using Calibre to keep his library organized.

7 Comments on At $17.99, The Casual Vacancy eBook Not a Casual Purchase

  1. It might help the publisher, but in the long run, this might not be that great for J K Rowling. From what I hear, this book is radically different in feel from the Potter books, so anyone who plunks down $18 expecting that same level of engaging characters and imaginative settings will likely feel disappointed.– mush more disappointed than if they had paid only $10. They may not feel like continuing on with further Rowling novels if they’re really bitter about it.

  2. Yeah, this is publisher price gouging of eBooks at its worst. In the book industry, JK Rowling is a HUGE boost to physical book and brick-and-mortar bookstore sales. Some independent bookstore owners credited Harry Potter for keeping them ‘alive’ during rough economic times. The series was a phenomenon in consumer book-buying; books became popular among the masses (and children) again. It is rare for an author to be as popular as Rowling, and publishers and booksellers want to capitalize on this as much as possible. They will charge an obscene price for the eBook so that frugal customers default to the $35.00 hardback (it will ONLY be around $20 at Amazon or BN.com; physical bookstores will sell it at list price). On the other hand, publishers still want to convince us that paying big bucks for a proprietary computer file that we don’t even really own is reasonable; this is what books are worth, they claim, so of course a big seller like Rowling should cost more. You are paying for content!

    In reality, publishers want to drive sales to their paper and hardback editions, and booksellers are in need of the cash flow. There is not much eBook lovers can do other than swallow their pride and open their wallet.

  3. Why are you complaining? The e-book is only a little over 50% of the printed book price.
    If the hardback was $35 and ebook $40, THAT would be a good reason to complain.

    And $35 for a hardback by Rowling isn’t entirely unreasonable price.

    • Because $17.99 isn’t a fair price for a DRMed, proprietary, read-the-fine-print-because-you-don’t-really-own-this eBook file. Do you know anything about eBooks? For $17.99, you are buying a license to loan this file for an undetermined period of time. The seller can at-will delete it from your device (see Amazon and 1984 removal), or even brick your device if they wanted to. You can only loan this eBook to a friend for exactly one week, once in a lifetime. You can’t resell it, or convert it to another file format, or do anything the publisher doesn’t want you to do with it.

      Hardbacks are $35 because they cost money to make. There is paper, ink, dyes, and glue; shipping & handling, storage, manufacture, and display on a shelf. It is a physical item that when you buy it, there is no disputing that you own it. You can lend it to a friend and leave it at his house for six months, or you can resell it to a used bookstore. All of these things, you can’t do with an eBook. Now, there is some dispute about what an eBook should really cost in order to be fair to authors and publishers, but one thing is for sure, it isn’t $17.99. Think about it. If the hardback is $35, and they are charging $17.99, what is all that money for? They aren’t binding, or gluing, or shipping it out. They are electronically wiring you a computer file that cost them pennies to produce. If I’m paying to license something I don’t really own, I’m not paying more than $12, and even that is a stretch. I could deal with higher prices if I were really owning the file, but this isn’t the case thanks to proprietary DRM locking.

      • Yes, I DO know a thing or two about e-books, having read e-books long before the first e-ink device saw the light of day. I have been closely watching the situation on e-book market for the last 10 years. (yes, that was even before the time that legitimate market – as we know it today – existed)

        My answer was kind of sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek complaint that this is entirely normal situation (sigh …), and that we were lucky that the price of e-book wasn’t higher than the price of hardback.

        I agree with you fully that with an e-book you get inferior product that you can’t lend, sell, read in 50 years, or even read on a different device. Not that I think that this particular book will be read in 50 years, except perhaps by scholars studying the Potter phenomenon.

        I have to disagree with you regarding the price. – Please note that I am playing the devil advocate here.
        The paper, ink, printing, binding, and all other physical things that make a book cost about $1. People perceive this sum to be a much higher, because publishers worked *very* hard for the lest 50 years to persuade us otherwise. How else could they justify asking substantially higher price for hardback than paperback. Modern hardbacks are a clever ways to gouge people that do not want to wait for the price to come down.
        What they DO save on is:
        – reminders – unsold books returned to publisher (and even here saving isn’t that high, because the cost of printing a book really isn’t high)
        – Physical book-store costs in the form of 100% margins for book seller. This is the only really expensive thing. Hence the e-book price that is 50% of hardback list price.

  4. I want to read it, but I’ll wait as long as it take to buy it for a fair price.

  5. The book is expensive, yes.
    But the release date for the book was set back in the spring and the so-called “golden window” alluded to by PaidContent was triggered by Judge Cote.
    Unless the judge is secretly in Rowlings pay…?

    No, I’m not buying that one.
    The book is expensive because that is what the market will bear as a launch price.

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