When I first tracked down some rumors that JK Rowling was pursuing options to offer eBook versions of Harry Potter, I was ecstatic. I love the books, as do my wife and daughter. I wanted my son to be able to enjoy them as well, but without an eBook option it wasn’t in the realm of possibility. We did eventually find a book library for the blind and visually impaired called Book Share, but the reading experience there is… lacking. So I waited, and hoped.
Then over the summer JK Rowling announced that eBooks were definitely coming, but would be sold only through a site she would create called “Pottermore.” There people would be able to purchase the books for use in various readers, and use the site to read them interactively with others. I was skeptical about the nature of the endeavor because I wasn’t sure how book purchases would be handled, or if I was going to be forced to jump through some painful hoops just to load the books on whatever device I wanted to use. I have a problem with DRM in general, but at least the ease of going through Amazon and Barnes and Noble is numbingly simple. Having to download a file and jump through hoops to use it wasn’t my idea of a good time.
As the rumored date for the opening of Pottermore (Halloween) came and went without so much as a peep from the site, I began to get worried. When I read an announcement in the site’s blog in January that the site was being re-done I thought I may never get my Nook app around these books. Then last week I stopped by and read a new blog post which detailed the problems their beta test had uncovered, their joy at having made the site better, and an announcement that the site would open in early April!
Today a friend of mine told me, “Go to Barnes and Noble’s web page” – and there I was greeted by the announcement that Harry Potter eBooks were now on sale! The entire series can be had for just under $59, a great price for seven books. I immediately followed the link to the Pottermore store, wondering how the downloads of the books would be handled, and what I found was the future of eBook sales.
One of the things which makes people leery of purchasing eBooks is the idea of “vendor lock-in.” If you purchase a book from Amazon, you can read it in Kindle branded ways. Yes, they have apps everywhere, and even an html5 web-reader, but you’re still stuck with Kindle. It’s similar for the Nook. Once you purchase a Nook book, it will always be a Nook book. We encountered a problem with vendor lock-in when Barnes and Noble first came out with a Nook-branded e-reader for the iPad. Their previous reader had fantastic font options which were perfect for my son, but the Nook app had a bug which make the large fonts tiny – a bug which went unresolved for months. When I asked fir a refund after going nowhere with tech support (who wouldnt even acknowledge the problem), I was told Nook book sales were final and non-returnable. We had Nook books which were unusable, but Nook books they would always remain. This is one problem vendor lock-in can lead to.
What JK Rowling has done with Pottermore is break vendor lock-in. When you purchase the books through the site you may link it to your Barnes and Noble or Amazon accounts and wireless receive your books as normal. You may also download the file and use Adobe digital editions to load the book on to any device compatible with that software. Finally, the file can be dropped into the books section of iTunes and synced with iBooks. You can download each book eight times (as far as I can tell, the Kindle and Nook links each count as one download). Additionally, the Pottermore store encourages parents to download the books and put them on any devices their children use for reading without purchasing another copy. They do state that they expect parents to get their children to purchase their own copies once they are 18 – but that’s it. They don’t use a draconian “age check” lock-down, they don’t tell you to choose your reading device wisely because you’ll always be tied to it, they don’t treat their customers like criminals waiting to pirate their books.
Pottermore will sell gobs of books. No question.
This is the future of book sales – where books aren’t tied to a vendor forever and ever and ever, and authors can use other technologies to change how their books are read. I’ve not used Pottermore yet, but the idea of being sorted into a house, and reading with others is sure to excite my daughter and son (and, honestly, I want to see what house I get in to). I don’t know how Amazon and Barnes and Noble get a portion of the sales of books which get linked to their respective accounts, but I’m sure they must (they wouldn’t advertise the books otherwise). JK Rowling, however, sets her price. She controls the content, and the publishing of it. In the world of Pottermore Amazon and Barnes and Noble return to being vendors in a world that isn’t permanently locked into one ecosystem. On the other hand, iBooks, tied as it it to the iTunes licensing scheme, won’t see anything from sales of Harry Potter eBooks – and it may be the first of many such books which Apple will never be able to sell unless they make some allowances (which they should, books are not apps).
Pottermore may also be the lifeline traditional publishers have been waiting for. For years the assumed narrative has been, “Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other eBook stores will eventually cut out the publishers from the book selling process.” JK Rowling has taken that narrative and shredded it to pieces. In it’s place is a world in which publishers can do their work, and once again add value to the works under their care by offering generous terms for reading and creating a space where conversations can form around each book. It’s a whole new world, again. Can we expect anything Iess in this age of rapid transition?