A screenshot of the Pottermore ebookshop
Pottermore, the website set up by J K Rowling which adds to the multi-million selling Harry Potter books, may still be in beta mode, but you can now buy e-book versions of the stories there, from anywhere in the world. Rowling, reported The Wall Street Journal, has sold 450 million physical copies, and been translated into over 70 languages; but as she retained digital rights, so far e-book editions hadn’t been available. Pottermore’s content site is expected to get ready to go in April.
In doing so, Rowling is bypassing Amazon, which currently is the leading player in the e-book market. The Potter books won’t have Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption, which means you can read them on any electronic reader, from Kindle to iPad. Currently, DRM systems mean that a book downloaded on Apple can’t be read on a Kindle, and vice versa. DRM is thought by publishers to prevent piracy, reported Associated Press.
The general consensus is that Rowling has set a precedent; but that it’s probably a lot easier for someone who’s sold as much as her to go rogue, as it were. And will people even want to buy the e-books?
So what? Well it means that books bought via Pottermore can be freely shared around to other devices – although there will be a limit on how many copies can be shared, thanks to watermarks which identify the buyer. It also means that Pottermore will have a closer relationship with its readers than if it went through a retailer. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have signed deals that mean they can display the books on their sites, but will get a referral fee. There is no deal, as yet, with Apple, reported The Financial Times.
“The question is: is the fear of piracy greater than the fear of Amazon?” said publishing consultant Michael Shatzkin, quoted on AP.
What about other authors? Publishing consultant Michael Shatzkin, quoted on AP, said that other writers probably wouldn’t follow JK’s example, as she’s “The Beatles of the literary world.” But publishers who have a lot of products may well follow suit as they realize they can bypass Amazon – but crucially, as long as they give up DRM.
It happened in the music industry, didn’t it? Yup. iTunes and Amazon are DRM-free. But Andi Sporkin, of the Association of American Publishers, also quoted on AP, says that DRM “has value” – for instance, it allows library e-books to be lent – and that “going DRM-free” hasn’t really been discussed in publishing yet.
And who’s going to buy them? Hillary Busis on Entertainment Weekly said that if you’re a fan you’re already going to own all 7. She and her siblings, who “hate sharing”, have “no fewer than three copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” There are audio versions too – “Do even devoted Potterheads realy feel the need to own the series in up to three separate formats?” The Guardian ran a poll, which, at the time of writing, suggested that 50 per cent of readers wouldn’t buy the e-books as they already had print versions. Charlie Redmayne, the digital executive brought in to launch the Pottermore e-book store, made no statement about the projected revenue from the e-books; but said that 8-11 year olds who hadn’t read the books yet were part of the target market.