In news that has gone so far from the definition of ‘news’ that it has circled back round upon itself to become newsworthy again, today sees the publication of JK Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel, the adult-orientated The Casual Vacancy. I know, it caught me utterly unawares too. Take a minute to regain your composure and lift your jaw off the floor, why don’t you.
Little, Brown is the company currently looking at its logo on the spine of the book, then looking at the rest of the publishing world, then looking at the Harry Potter series’ sales figures, then looking back at the rest of the publishing world and pointing and laughing.
The Guardian has a round-up of the various reactions – both commercial and critical – to the novel so far. As has become practically mandatory for this kind of event publication, high street shops including Waterstones and Foyles (and probably any others that are left) are opening their doors at 8am, at which point the novel ceases to be embargoed and is conveniently available to all the commuters walking up and down said high streets on their ways to work of a Thursday morning. Dare you to queue up then go in and ask if they happen to have a Ben-Hur, 1860, third edition, the one with the erratum on page 116.
Online retailers meanwhile are, equally predictably, engaging in a race to the bottom to see who can give the biggest discount on the novel’s £20 RRP. Waterstones has a solid 50% off, offering it for a round tenner, whilst Amazon, ever determined to be that guy who only guesses £1 more than you on The Price Is Right, has it at £9.84. The term ‘loss leader’ was created for this thing.
In and around the hype has floated Rowling herself, giving interviews to a select few outlets, even though she’s one of a mere handful of authors who never has to engage with the public ever again in order to continue to sell bucketloads. One interesting nugget from her talk with the BBC’s Will Gompertz, and a potential door being opened in how the publishing industry continues to flog its biggest successes after everyone already owns a copy: Rowling has suggested she was unhappy with ‘a couple of the Potters’ when she went back and read them, having to ‘write on the run’ to have them ready for scheduled publication even though she ‘definitely knew that they needed another year.’ The solution? So-called ‘director’s cuts’, apparently. Don’t go all George Lucas on us now, Rowling.