As you might have heard, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has a new (non-Potter) book out this year. The Casual Vacancy will be released on September 27th 2012 and is expected to be a huge hit. But there’s already debate over the pricing of ebook editions of the novel, with Barnes & Noble currently quoting a price of $19.99 for a Nook edition.
To put the $19.99 price tag into perspective, B&N lists the hardcover as $21, as does Amazon. Crucially, Amazon currently doesn’t list a price for the Kindle edition of the book. That’ll perhaps send shivers down the spines of those who continue to support the agency model, because The Casual Vacancy looks like it could be one of those books that Amazon decides to discount heavily, in which case B&N’s $19.99 suddenly looks rather expensive.
The Casual Vacancy clearly required a great deal of time to write, and will see massive investment from its publishers in terms of publicity, design, editing and so on. So no-one was expecting it to sell for 99 cents from the start. And $19.99 is cheaper than the hardback price (though only by $1.01). But Rowling’s new book could really stir the debate on ebook pricing even further as launch day comes around. After all, although the book is marketed at an older audience, how many Harry Potter fans are going to want to buy the book? And how many of them are going to be used to the idea of paying $19.99 for an ebook download?
The point here isn’t really whether the publishers and websites have a right to charge $19.99 for the ebook. Of course they do. It’s their ebook, they can charge $199 if they want. But prices are a touchy subject right now and I can foresee a real fuss if, for example, Amazon were to cut their ebook edition down to something like $9.99. I think a lot of publishers will be keenly watching the performance of the ebook version of The Casual Vacancy, to see if the $19.99 price tag can be justified. One way or the other, this could be a turning point for ebook pricing.