With 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.