Friday, 28 September 2012

The price of ebooks and JK Rowling

JK Rowling's first non-Potter novel was published yesterday, and The Casual Vacancy now sits at the top of the ebook and hardback charts in the UK and the US. Amazon is obliged to charge the price set by the publisher for the ebook; in the UK, this is £11.99, and £9.00 including free delivery for the hardback. This means the hardback is 25% cheaper than the digital version, which cannot be lent or passed on or sold second hand (Amazon will buy the hardback from you once you have read it for £4.50). Although ebooks include VAT, Amazon charges the Luxembourg rate of 3%.

Unsurprisingly, some readers who prefer the convenience of reading on a Kindle are fed up about this. Go to the book's reviews and (at time of writing) half of them are one star, mostly because of the price. Almost none of the people posting reviews, favourable or not, have read the book.

My view is the price is extortionate; Hachette are milking JKR's fans in a shameless way just because they can. I am surprised JKR has let them do this. Though setting the price is the province of the publisher, I'd be astonished if a writer with her clout had no hand in deciding on it. There is nothing about JoRo to suggest she is not one shrewd cookie.

Joe Konrath says it will be good for indie authors when the US Department of Justice's ruling on the Price-Fix Six (the five publishers who colluded with Apple to keep ebook prices high) comes into effect, as readers will have cash to buy more books if they spend less on well-known authors. I hope he is right.

(Any of my readers read TCV yet? I wasn't enamoured of the sample or what I've read in the newspaper reviews; I prefer novels with some likeable characters.)


  1. I haven't read it - and nothing I've read so far tempts me. Why the huge publicity? It feels as if she doesn't expect this book to stand up for itself, but needs a song and dance to go with it before people will buy it. Or maybe I'm just cynical - but there are so many wonderful books to read I think I'll pass on this.

  2. Millions do not agree with us, Jo :o)

    I think when you get to a certain level of fame and fortune, it becomes self-sustaining. And there's a lot of curiosity as to what JoRo can do post Harry Potter.

  3. The hype worked to get me to look at the sample but I wasn't grabbed by it and the Kindle price did also put me off. I feel I can wait for the price to come down, or copies to be available in charity shops. Am usually on the author's side re buying new but figure she doesn't need my money...

    The whole Amazon reviewing/tagging thing about price seems to work against the author more than the publisher as it's their reputation the average reader is more aware of. So I think it's unfair to take action in that way. Think a price is too high? Don't pay it. Plenty of other books to read, after all. No need to punish an author for something their publisher did.


  4. Katherine, I doubt those reviews will change potential buyers' minds - they either are or aren't prepared to pay that price. My sister paid it. I wouldn't, even if I wanted to read the book.

    Also, in this case, as I've said, I doubt the publisher set the price in defiance of JKR's wishes. She has shown herself willing to charge a hefty amount for the Harry Potter ebooks, which she self-published. She knows her own worth :o)

  5. You're right about JKR, but there's been a spate of the 1-star reviews and tags for price on Amazon and I'd guess most authors are just caught in the cross-fire. I feel bad for them.

  6. I didn't know that. Tiresome to have their average rating brought down, but how else can readers complain to the publisher?

    Hugh Howey suggested on Kindleboards today that the reason publishers no longer delay ebook publication to maximize print sales is because of similar protests last year on that issue.

  7. I listened to the radio interview with JKR last night and got a favourable impression. From memory, she pointed out that she can now afford to pay people to handle the business side of her books and is free to concentrate solely on her writing. She is under no pressure to write and is enjoying and fulfilling herself.

    I think her publishers are nuts to price the e-books like that and I won't purchase but might join the waiting list at my local library. Actually I buy regular audio books from Audible (an Amazon company) at £7.50 a go and may buy it that way if my curiosity becomes too great. LOL

    JKR is not the only famous author with overpriced e-books. One can readily understand the pirating activity when publishers try to rip off their customers in this way!

    Thank heavens for Indies with their sensible pricing!

  8. Generally the price comes down once eager people who don't want to wait have coughed up.

    Perhaps there are three types of ebook readers; those who buy at any price, those who wait for a reasonable price, and those who download from torrents sites for free.

    I wouldn't want my books to be too expensive, as there are a lot of people who don't have much money these days. Over £5.99 is too much, I think, for an ebook. I don't know what JKR's take on this is as no one has had the courage to ask her. Given the sympathy she expresses for the have-nots, it's perhaps surprising she seems so intent on squeezing the maximum profit from her writing.

  9. I reckon JKR will sell plenty of this book because people will buy it out of curiosity to see what it's like. If it's rubbish she'll sella lot less the next time.
    I'm not a great believer in the market as the source of all wisdom, but in this case it probably does have an influence.
    I think if I had made as much money as she has I would have started a foundation for starving authors by now.
    I was very impressed with her comments about why she has stayed in the UK - she said the government supported her when she was broke, so it's only right to stay put and pay the taxes. Actually, when I read that I almost went out and bought the book, but at the time I was too busy reading the latest Pratchett.

  10. The top UK tax rate is 50%, not too onerous when you earn millions per year. Under Labour back in the days of the Beatles it was 95%, worth leaving the country to avoid.

  11. Lexi, I got the impression from her interview that JKR isn't very interested in the details of sales and marketing, preferring to leave all that to others who supposedly know more about it.

    I presume that the publishers are not motivated by any benevolent interest but are simply looking to maximise profit. This means setting a price such that the (number of buyers) X (book price) is a maximum. Setting the price too high reduces sales and if readers don't buy early then momentum generated by the massive wave of interest from being the creator of Harry Potter, will dissipate. Reducing the price later will consequently not recover the situation. Setting the e-book price outrageously high will be disastrous for sales

    At least that's how I see it.
    My interest is already waning!

  12. Masterful summary, Q.

    All I have to add is that if the high price of the ebook drives readers to buy the hardback instead, that suits the publisher just fine.

  13. I haven't read it and I don't intend to.

    The overriding reason is that, at the moment, I'd prefer to read something which has a positive outlook. All the reviews I have read lambast this book for mediocre writing full of invective. This may or may not be true but I'm not prepared to pay that price to find out.

    Yet the interest shown by the public in general creates a larger reading audience and I see that as worth a thank you to Jo.

  14. You should take a look at the sample on Amazon, Anna, and see what you think. It seems to be a Marmite novel...

    They do say that Harry Potter got a lot of children reading who otherwise would not have willingly opened a book.

  15. I find it interesting that the ebook version was withdrawn to make corrections after many readers found it impossible to read at type sizes other than very small or very large. It doesn't say much about the publisher's ability to format ebooks.

    As to the price - it's a good way of encouraging piracy.

  16. Imagine how appalling it must have been to be the person responsible for that error!

    I wonder if Little Brown's policy was to make a killing from pre-orders and week one sales, knowing that with this book there was not likely to be much of a long tail. (Though of course you are right about the piracy aspect.)

  17. Belatedly, dragging my fingers, I've taken a look.

    I found her through the best sellers' list. She's number 6. I was ok with the first two paragraphs.

  18. I do wonder why, when JKR seems so blessed by fortune, she takes such a negative view of humanity in this novel. I don't buy the idea of a brief period on benefits scarring her for life. I can only think her attitude has its roots in a disastrous childhood.

  19. I enjoyed the Potter books, but am not tempted by this one. It all feels rather like a cynical money grab. To my mind, if JKR was serious about a writing career beyond Potter she would have been writing and publishing at least some other stuff all these years.

  20. I think that's a little harsh, Bot. The greater the success, the more pressure to produce something amazing. I'd have been a tad unnerved in her situation. Plus, JKR is managing the Potter empire and has a husband and three children to keep happy.

    Harper Lee only produced one novel, and so did Margaret Mitchell. I'd still call them serious writers.

  21. David Walliams, of 'Little Britain' fame, has recently said that the urge to kill himself is in him.

    It's that old chestnut of nature versus nurture.

    It's possible JKR would be cynical and ungrateful no matter what happened to her.

    Or maybe being rich and famous has disillusioned her about those who mix with such people.

    Or, as you say, Lexi, maybe a disastrous childhood is the cause.

    Whatever, the attitude the critics are suggesting she exhibits seems to suggest she is not intent on creating a feel good factor. Of course, some writers confront us with uncomfortable truths and something good comes of it. Time will tell.

  22. Yes, posterity will have the last word on all authors. Unless, as the offspring was saying last night, you write a seminal yet badly-written novel such as Dracula which unfortunate school children in English Literature classes are doomed to study forever more.

  23. I would understand if Dracula, or even Harry Potter, were to be studied in sociology, but Eng. Lit?

  24. Off topic I'm afraid but I just noticed the sales figures for Remix.

    Over 40000!
    And with Replica that's a total of well over 50K books

    A stunningly rapid half-century!
    Fabulous performance!!
    Very Well Done !!!!!!!

  25. Forgot to mention that my unit is 1k when measuring the score! LOL

  26. Thank you Q for noticing, and in bold too :o)

    The end of the WIP is in sight, and I can't wait to get it out to beta readers and on the market.

  27. I don't buy it that JKR is so disconnected from the sales process that she has no clue and no interest on what's being charged for her ebooks. Maybe she's broke and needs the money...

    The fact that any ebook would be more expensive than a hardcopy is completely unconscionable. Cut out the expensive publication and marketing process and then charge MORE? Unbelievable.

  28. But you have to admit it's a strategy that's worked for her and her publisher. They've maximized sales on a book that half the readers who bought it don't like.

  29. Fair enough, Lexi, but that strategy is only going to work once. It's a losing strategy in the long run. Especially if the book is disappointing. Then readers will feel doubly cheated.

  30. Yes indeed - but publishers these days think in even shorter time spans than politicians. If this year's profits look good, they're happy.

    It's different for authors. One unpopular book and your publisher is likely to dump you and you may be obliged to change your name and start all over again.