In preparation for the release of Philip Pullman’s long-awaited La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One on the 19 October, I have been re-reading (should that be devouring?) the original His Dark Materials series. Aside from being awed yet again by the brilliance and complexity of the story, it does make me pause and reflect that this series charts another, different story in the publishing world: the price of books.

When I studied for my Masters in Publishing in ’95/’96 it coincided in the fall of the Net Book Agreement – a British fixed book price agreement between publishers and booksellers which set the prices at which books were to be sold to the public. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was published in 1995, 1998, and 2000, and his forthcoming ‘equal’ is to be published this year, over twenty years since the first. When I look at the inside cover flaps of my first edition hardbacks I can see the history of the price of books very clearly.

Published in 1995, Northern Lights, was £12.99, as was The Subtle Knife in 1998, but by the time The Amber Spyglass was published in 2000, the price had gone up to £14.99. La Belle Sauvage is to be published with a RRP of a round £20! I know that inflation and increased production costs will have something to do with this but I can’t help thinking that this quite dramatic increase has more than a little to do with the 50% discount that online and major retailers are already listing the book as.

If retailers are going to sell books at half the cover price you can only guess at how big a discount they are getting from the publishers, and when you think that it’s only the big retailers with the buying power that get those discounts you can easily see how unfair it is on the smaller, independent booksellers.

How things would be different if we still had the NBA in operation. Yes, we wouldn’t get the predomination of book discounts on offer, but maybe we would have fairer book prices for all across all bookshops. You can argue that the NBA fixed prices and was thus bad, but it does seem that without that in place, it just results in publisher’s pushing the prices higher and higher to sustain their profits after they have given substantial discounts to those that have the buying power to do so.

Meanwhile consumers like myself are left in the conundrum of where to buy La Belle Sauvage on it’s publication day? Do I vote with my pocket and get it for half price from a major retailer, or support my local Indie…?