The price of fiction

There has been a lot of talk this week about J. K. Rowling’s new novel The Casual Vacancy, particularly about the price for the ebook version (currently £11.99 on Amazon).

Whilst I definitely believe an author should be paid a fair amount for their work, I do feel that charging nearly £12 is somewhat excessive, and if you look at the Amazon reviews, a lot of others agree with this. Of course, the price has been set by the publisher and reflects the price of the hardback version of the novel, and when the paperback edition comes out in, presumably, 6 months time, the ebook price will fall to match it.

Given the growth of the ebook market over the past few years, is there still a place for the traditional model of “expensive hardback first, cheaper paperback later” that the publishers use? I don’t think there is. Ebook sales are already outstripping their paper counterparts and over the coming years, the number of paper books will continue to decrease as the uptake of ebooks and ebook readers/tablets grows ever stronger.

So, what are the big publishers to do? As the number of paper sales decreases, it is only inevitable that the RRP for these copies will increase as the cost per unit will be more as less are printed. It is time that the publishers accepted ebooks are the way forward and that the format should be taken seriously and the RRP of a digital copy should properly set in accordance to not having a physical copy, and not matched to what they expect consumers to part with for a paper copy.

It is not just the book industry that is suffering from the onslaught of the digital age. Video games, movies and music are all in the same boat. Why would a consumer pay £9.99 for a music album of their favourite artist in mp3 format when they can buy a CD version in a shop (or online) for £6-7? Sure, some people still want to own a physical copy of a game/book/album and always will, but what about the growing number of consumers who just want instant access to new material for their Kindle or iPad or whatever?

The way we consume media is changing and those in the industry seem hell-bent on holding us back, trying to keep things “real”. “What about piracy?” they scream. Of course, there will always be piracy, but if the big companies are not willing to remodel their pricing for the 21st century consumer, then that consumer will either not buy or will pirate what they want. Either way, those who worked hard on their product will lose out.

I am not suggesting that The Casual Vacancy should be priced at 99p, but I can’t help wondering how many more copies they would have sold this week if the ebook version was priced at £4.99?


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