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Digital diddle in the fine print

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Stephen Cauchi

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British author JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series of books, poses during the launch of new online website Pottermore in London June 23, 2011.

British author JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series of books, poses during the launch of new online website Pottermore in London June 23, 2011.

AUSTRALIANS pay more than Americans for digital music, software and iPads - and, in many cases, e-books. When J.K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy is released in September, Australians will pay $24.17 for their e-book version. In the US, it will be $US19.99. And that's with an Australian dollar over parity with a US dollar.

The head of digital publishing at Allen and Unwin, Elizabeth Weiss, said it was hard to tell how often this happened. ''There's no aggregate data in the Australian market. Basically we don't know,'' she said.

However, consumers should not be surprised if e-books in Australia did cost more. ''As is often the case [Australian] prices can be a bit higher [than the US equivalent] but not stratospherically higher,'' she said.

''When you've got a population of 23 million compared to 300 million, the fact is you are operating in a much smaller marketplace. If you're going to run an operation - whether it is a book publishing operation or a book selling operation - you don't have the sheer size of the US market over which to amortise all of your costs.''

Ms Weiss said that, contrary to popular belief, e-books were not cheap to produce and, therefore, justified a high price. ''The author still needs to be paid there are still production costs, promotion costs, etc. These are overheads that simply won't go away.''

Australian Consumer Association spokesperson, Ingrid Just, said there were ''quite significant price differences'' for e-book downloads ''depending on what country you're living in''.

Ms Just said the best way for consumers to deal with overpriced e-books was to be prepared to buy the paper copy.

''You don't have to put up with it. Look for the alternative cheaper product,'' she said.