Pottermore: A Glimpse at the Future of e-Books

Pottermore debuted a few months ago as the exclusive site to buy the Harry Potter books. I’m on break from teaching at the moment and I decided to try it out. I came away from the experience more impressed than I have been by a storefront in a long time. Let me preface this with a little background.

Despite being a librarian, I do my personal reading almost exclusively with e-books. I’m personally invested in the Kindle store; I like their selection, Whispersync comes in handy, and I can read anywhere on my computer, phone, Kindle, or iPad. My wife is invested in the Nook store, the offering from Barnes & Noble, which offers similar features. I have also tried out Apple’s iBooks, Google Books, Sony Reader (my grandmother has one), and various other apps for many platforms.

I have published a book in the Kindle store and have converted other writers’ books to epub for direct download and submission to the Nook store as well, so I am very well acquainted with what it takes to do so and what the advantages and drawbacks are. As a librarian, I usually turn down vendors flat when they approach me about e-books because I want to actually own the books and they are offering a poor, proprietary solution. I don’t want a solution laden with DRM that can only be read on one platform. If something happens to that platform down the road, what happens to all the books we’ve bought? Further, if a student brings me a device, whether Kindle, Nook, iPod Touch, etc…, I want to be able to load the book onto their device. To do that, at the moment, would really require having the .epub file without copy-protection on it. There really is not an ideal scenario for this.

Pottermore solves this problem in an innovative way, even if it only impacts a small number of titles. When you buy a book from Pottermore, you link any major ereaders accounts (Kindle, Nook, Google, Sony) and you can instantly send the book to any of them. It easily works as well as buying directly from Amazon in my experience. You can download the file directly to read on a computer, Apple’s iBooks, or any other device that can read .epub files. In addition, you can download the file multiple times.

In a few seconds, I was able to send the book to my Kindle, my wife’s Nook, and test it out in iBooks. Really, that is how it should be. When I purchase a book, I want to own the book and be able to use it as I choose. J. K. Rowling made this ¬†happen.

How Did She Accomplish This?

There are 2 advantages that Rowling has that most authors do not that allowed her to make this happen.

First, she wisely kept the e-book and audiobook rights to her series. Most publishers bundle those into their contracts, so it is difficult for authors, especially new authors without a lot of clout, to do that. This let her have the legal right to create Pottermore and to gain almost the entire profit from the sale, as opposed to the 15-20% that most authors get from the publishers.

However, just creating a site is not enough. There is no guarantee the distributors are going to want to work with someone or give them access to their platform to send books. The e-book distributors all like to tightly control their environments. This brings us to her second advantage: she is J. K. Rowling. She wrote arguably the most popular series in a generation. No major platform wants to say that you cannot read it on their platform. So, Amazon and B&N bowed to her demands. They have links on their site to Pottermore to buy the Harry Potter series.

They would not do this for most authors; they lose profit, control, and, arguably, mindshare. It also would make it difficult for consumers if every author had their own site. Publishers are in a bad situation as their circumstances change around them and they continually seem to stagnate rather than adapt. As the balance of power shifts to favor authors, more will be able to do as Rowling has, perhaps even jointly. While I don’t think it will become commonplace in the next year and I don’t plan on giving up my Kindle anytime soon, I do feel that Pottermore shows up a glimpse of a possible direction e-books could go in. If it is a direction that gives more power to authors and choice to consumers, I am all for it.

2 comments to Pottermore: A Glimpse at the Future of e-Books

  • Philip_Cummings
    Twitter: Philip_Cummings

    Fascinating. I love the idea that the power and control over the work belongs with its creator, and I’m all for choice for the consumer (to a point–too much choice becomes paralyzing). Fortunately, Rowling no longer needs the marketing afforded by a good book publisher. I’m not sure that will ever be true of the majority of writers–particularly young writers. I know the web has made it possible for individuals to market themselves and now everyone can have a voice, but as the sea of voices grows deeper it becomes harder and harder to be heard. If one is gifted to write great books, will he also be gifted enough to get his words out to those of us who want to read those great books. I’m not sure. Would Rowling ever have surfaced to the top without Scholastic? Will the gifted young writers in my classroom be able to do so. Much to consider here.

    If this rambled, sorry. I got distracted mid-thought.

  • It has great prospectus as you have described. Authors must be empowered to get what they really deserve out of there creations. Might not as the extent to Rowling’s. But there is a hope.

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