The French company, Hachette Livre, which owns of publishers of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy interest – Orbit and Orion – has recently become worse than the Grinch, instituting massive price rises for Australian readers.

My particular interest is science fiction and fantasy, so those subgenres I have looked at due to greater familiarity.  Anyone wanting to do the same thing for crime, for example will find the same results.

As a pricing sample, I decided to look at Orbit’s 2011 book list, given they present their publication scheduled professionally and in an easy-to-read, accessible format.  Orion’s website, in comparison, is pretty bad in terms of searching recent listings or by genre.

In addition, Orbit listings are structured multi-regionally to include the USA, so it can be directly compared.  I will use the Amazon prices, as often even excerpts and viewing of any book information at all is blocked at Kobo or other places depending on the region.  Amazon also have more books available to Australians (personally, I have bought one book via Adobe Digital Editions.  Never, ever again.  Some of the worst software and processes I have ever had the misfortune to use were from the Amazon editions).

The total price to buy the whole list of books that are available below is :-

USA :  $656.43

AUS : $1077.97

This means a Rip-Off Ratio of 164%.

That is right; the prices have been raised to be 64% more for Australian readers than the rest of the world.

Or to put it another way, the average USA ebook cost is 8.42 and in Australia, 13.82, a difference of 5.40.

Hachette is actually providing hugely negative value as a publisher in Australia.

The Oceania response to this should be ‘no thanks’ (that’s the polite version).  Like with music and movies and tv at greatly inflated prices, this NO to Hachette will ensure that Australians will become the highest per capita downloaders-for-free of Hachette books.

Speaking of free, I did some cursory checking.  I had a fifteen second look for each book, and in that time I discovered 93% of them were available for free.  No shock that people aren’t clamouring for Philip Palmer like Neal Stephenson or Stephen King, whose books will generally be available for free within a day.  A couple of the other authors I had not heard of.  Some authors without free ebooks interestingly had free audiobooks available.

Given that Orion is also a Hachette company a few books sampled seemed to confirm the same thing has happened with their pricing.

Yes, this means that the ballyhooed SF Gateway project is also now a massive ripoff for Australians.  $12.50 for books few people want?  Crazy.  These were all $8.66 on launch, which is also expensive for ancient paperbacks.  I purchased the very few that I really wanted.  I certainly will never buy another one at the current new prices.  What did Australian publishers have to do with this?  Zero.  How many Australian authors are there?  None.

We all knew that the major publisher claim that they would lower prices over time was a fairy story.  In Australia, this is now an outright lie as far as Hachette is concerned.  An example of this: during Xmas 2009 I bought Alastair Reynolds book Zima Blue for $10.00.  Reynolds is one of the small handful of authors I would pay that price for if they produce a short story collection.  When the SF Gateway launched this book it was $8.66.  It is now $13.54.

Now for a couple of really egregious examples:

Rule 34 by Charlie Stross again was around $10.00 not so long ago.  Now it is $20.83.  This is $3.70 MORE than the hardback price.  To quote the author of the novel “It is indeed a mammoth rip-off” Comment 351.  This quote was in an article about publishers doing dumb things no less!  Mr Stross being someone who is most definitely smarter than either myself or any French media executive.  Sure, they have actually decided to start making books available, which was a step forward.  Until a few months ago you could not buy the ebook of Dune by Frank Herbert.  Such an obscure and low selling tome they couldn’t be bothered with, it seemed.  Now, they’ve taken a massive retrograde step with their enormous price gouging. Any non-Australian author that would like to bleat about how this is necessary, send me evidence that you yourself have paid 64% more voluntarily for every single one of your ebook purchases going forwards if this is such a great thing.

The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (who is dead) is $26.04 in Australia.  Almost NINE DOLLARS more than the $17.89 paper price.  This is clearly utterly stupid. The US price is $13.72.

A Gollancz note: It appears that all their SF and Fantasy masterworks are being made available by a sympathetic source.  The timing of this beginning to happen at the time of these price rises is very interesting.

Propping up their bottom lines by massively overcharging in Oceania has long been a favored pasttime of UK publishers.

One of the excuses for this is ‘if we don’t, no Australia authors get published’.  Australian authors make up on the order of 10% of Orbit’s 2011 output.  Rather more than 10% of their UK version’s sales though, I believe. I am sure an Australian company could manage to provide this handful of books to the whole world,  which would ensure that the money stays in the country. Given the fact that the majority of books consumed in Australia are from other countries, Australians downloading them for free is an overall net economic benefit to the nation.  An extra 64% per book vanishing into foreign coffers of various varieties adds up pretty fast.  Some of the money will then be spent at actual Australian businesses.

It seems most media companies in the world are hellbent on making Australians the world’s biggest downloaders of free product – a practice totally deserved in a lot of cases. Nevertheless, there are some organisations that deserve praise.  For being reader-friendly, DRM free and great value.  Or users of VPNs or other such services to alter virtual location and encrypt traffic, for those that can be bothered to go that far or incur those expenses.

Baen and their Webscriptions : where books are $6.00.  Hachette apparently thinks their authors are more than twice as good as Lois McMaster Bujold, for example.  Or Paolo Bacigalupi.  Or Lauren Beukes.  This is male bovine excrement. Note that some SF Gateway product is available there for a much better deal.  The Poul Anderson Dominic Flandry books that are $12.50 each can be obtained several at a time in omnicollections for $6.00.  The complete Cordwainer Smith science fiction can be had in two books or $12.00,  whereas Norstrilia alone will set you back $12.50 at Gollancz.  Anyone needing advice on this sort of thing, please feel free to email.

Night Shade Books : Who also sell their books at the above webscriptions as well as other usual outlets.  The best value – $6.00 a book is to be found at webscriptions.

Angry Robot : Again, they have their own DRM free webshop.  You can also sign up for their club to get advance looks at books.  Buy a year’s worth of books at subscription prices and more.

Weightless Books : Small Beer Press and other word is provided here.  Ted Chiang, for example.  Again, DRM free.

Wizard’s Tower Books : A reprint specialist who also provides DRM free. And when a book wasn’t available in a particular format actually converted one for me.  Try and get your French ripoff artists to do that!

Book View Cafe : A female focused author collective providing a growing range of their work.  Again, multiformat and DRM free.  Includes actual science fiction by women.  Something both Orbit and Gollancz seem incapable of providing currently, in general.

There are other authors such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch providing work at Smashwords :  for example such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Along with many others.

I’d encourage Australians to spend their dollars with publishers and outlets like the above where books are 1) Not crippled by snake oil DRM and 2) Good value and 3) Available in a format you can use.  Also for Australians, you are more likely to find work from these outlets that is not 1) Kings, swords and ponies set in a faux Northern Hemisphere (England! Yawn!) medieval setting or 2) Werewolf shagging or Faerie stabbing set in yet another boring US location.  Greater work variety, more modern, more cutting edge and added geographic variety.  This is all worth supporting.

Remember that all Australians should check book pricing via a US proxy (or UK occasionally) to see how much they are getting hosed. This goes for dead tree books, too.  The Book Depository prices based on IP address so that they can say ‘free shipping’.  Often, but not always, the price an Australian will see will often be rather higher than someone from the USA or UK. Now unlike itself the Book Depository prices are by session, not address, so you can get around them.  The important thing to remember is always to check.

I’ve put the Orbit list in a spreadsheet for those that are interested, which is at the bottom of the article.  This is a text version.

Title                         AUS    USA  FREE    RATIO

The Ambassador’s Mission13.547.98Yes170%

Artemis13.548.22Not Yet165%

The Ascendant Stars20.839.53Not Yet219%

Bad Blood10.417.54Yes138%

Bearers of the Black Staff13.549.65Yes140%

The Black Prism12.507.94Yes157%

A Blight of Mages11.4511.66Yes98%

Blonde Bombshell13.548.22Yes165%

Blood Bound12.509.65Yes130%

Blood Rights10.417.54Yes138%

Bone Crossed12.509.65Yes130%

The Business of Death13.547.85Yes172%


Cold Fire20.8311.17Yes186%

Cold Magic13.547.98Yes170%

The Company Man13.547.18Yes189%

Dante ValentineNA11.12Yes     NA


Deep State13.547.54Not Yet180%

Degrees of Freedom12.507.14Yes175%

The Dragon’s Path20.8311.12Yes187%

Echo City13.547.14Yes190%

The Edinburgh Dead13.547.14Yes190%

Ember and Ash12.507.14Not Yet175%

Ender’s Game12.507.14Yes175%

The Enterprise of Death13.547.14Yes190%

Epitaph12.507.94Not Yet157%

Equations of Life12.507.14Yes175%

Eye of the Tempest13.547.18Yes189%

The Fallen Blade17.719.53Yes   186%

The Final Evolution12.507.18Yes174%

Flesh and Blood8.327.14Yes117%

Gears Of War: Coalition’s End12.507.18Yes174%


Ghost Story20.8311.17Yes186%

Green-Eyed Demon12.507.14Yes175%

The Griffin Mage17.718.73Yes203%

The Hammer13.547.94Yes171%



The Heir Of Night13.549.58Yes141%

Hell Ship13.547.94Yes171%



Iron Kissed12.507.98Yes157%

The Key to Creation20.8311.17Yes186%

The Kingdom of Gods12.509.99Yes125%

Kings of the North13.547.18Yes189%

Legacy of Kings13.547.18Yes189%

Leviathan Wakes20.839.58Yes217%

Life…Pursuit of Sausages20.839.53Yes219%

Living With TheDead12.507.98Yes157%

Managing Death12.507.85Yes159%

The Map of all Things12.507.98Yes157%

The Measure of Magic16.6614.37Yes116%

Moon Called12.507.98Yes157%

The Neon Court13.547.14Yes190%

The Orphaned Worlds12.507.54Yes166%

The Reluctant Mage11.457.94Yes144%

The Restoration GameNANAYes     NA

The Revenge of Dwarves13.547.94Yes171%

Rise of Empire12.507.94Yes157%

River Marked12.507.14Yes175%

The Rogue20.8314.30Yes146%

Rule 3420.8310.28Yes203%


ShadowriseNANAYes     NA

Side Jobs                  12.507.18Yes174%

Silver Borne12.507.98Yes157%

Spell Bound17.7113.57Yes131%

Stormlord’s Exile12.507.98Yes157%

Surface Detail13.547.94Yes171%

The Sworn12.507.14Yes175%

Tempest Rising13.547.94Yes171%

Tempest’s Legacy13.547.14Yes190%

The Theft Of Swords12.507.14Yes175%

The Theories of Flight12.507.14Yes175%

Towers of Midnight13.547.98Yes170%

Waking TheWitch12.507.94Yes157%

Watcher of the Dead13.547.98Yes170%

The White Luck Warrior20.8311.17Yes186%

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  1. “The Oceania response to this should be ‘no thanks’ (that’s the polite version).”

    That’s my response for the New Zealand pricing for UK eBooks. For example Sherrilyn Kenyon’s ‘Retribution’ is priced at NZ$24.99 at Kobo and GB£5.99 (approx NZ$12) at BooksOnBoard. There is absolutely no way I will pay NZ$24.99 for an eBook. Geographical restrictions will frequently prevent me from purchasing eBooks elsewhere so the author and the publishers miss out on sales as I no longer follow those particular authors. UK publishers have been ripping off NZ buyers for years and they are even worse when it comes to eBooks so all they get from me is a definite ‘no thanks’.

  2. Well, if it is any consolation, Hachette are ***holes in France too.
    Outside of ludicruous ebooks pricing and egregious DRM (did not check the quality, DRM is a no-no for me), they are also actively working against small bookstores: no more representatives for them, no more new books announcements.
    Just go check in the nearest “culture hypermarket” to check what books you should be ordering.

    They kill bookstores.

    PS: you can also add “Wizard’s Tower” to the above list. They have a large overlap with Weightless Books, but there are some extra books in each.
    Frenchies can also use “”, where the site makes it easy to filter out DRMed books (beware the occasional watermarking, though) or “Le Belial” (very small publisher, assholes, but some very good books).

  3. Good article, Blue. 🙂 Thanks for the tip about Book Depo. I occasionally buy paper books for other members of my family.

    I had great hopes of the SF Gateway. Sad to see it being created only for exploitation.

    To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke,

    “Any sufficiently inflated prices are indistinguishable from extortion.”

  4. Actually, one of the Gateway masters seemed to think that this should not be the case – books are back to 8.32 today for me, anyway – can you confirm if this is the same for others?

    Also mentioned something about a 2.99 pommie sales possibly happening over xmas, so that would make a few more worth getting, so worth checking over the next week or so I think. Will post if I see more.

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