Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last tome of a hardcover that I lugged around on vacation. It took up seemingly half my suitcase and weighed a ton, but because it wasn’t available in e-book form and because I don’t believe in piracy, I carried that thing across the country.
Now I’m thrilled to have the entire Harry Potter series resting weightlessly within my iPad.
As you have likely heard, Harry Potter is available in e-book form. And not just in e-book form, but available only through Pottermore, the digital extension of the Harry Potter brand. No other e-book vendor has it for sale, including the e-book behemoths like Amazon, B&N and iBooks. And the e-books are published by Rowling herself.
Why This is a Big Deal
J.K. Rowling just did an entire end-around on the entire publishing world in many, many ways.
Most of the focus has been on how these are for sale only from the author, and rightly so. Even Amazon is playing ball, listing the books for sale but referring people to Pottermore to make the purchase.
And the manner in which these e-books are being distributed is revolutionary. They’re being sold without DRM but with digital watermarks to guard against piracy. Each purchaser has 8 digital copies they can download in various formats, and it’s very easy to convert to the most popular devices. I had the e-books on my iPad within minutes.
The approach to DRM is, ironically enough, extremely similar to my earlier post on what good a good approach to DRM would look like – you can convert the files to any device and you have a sufficient number of copies for yourself and others… Only there’s no DRM. Ha! 10 points for Gryffindor.
So let’s talk about this. No publisher. The author as e-distributor. No DRM.
Should the e-book big boys be shaking in their boots? Could authors and publishers play on their own in a world where they don’t actually have to sell through Amazon?
Rowling has certainly woken people up to this possibility. After all, in a Google world do you really have to have a central vendor? If people go looking for a book can’t they get it just as easily from going to the author’s site as they do from Amazon or iBooks?
Did the game just change for everyone?
Why This Isn’t a Big Deal
My opinion? Yeah… not so much.
There is basically one author in the world who can pull this off. And she’s the one who is doing it.
Okay, there may be a few more. But in order for this to work in 2012, an author has to build an entire distribution platform themselves that is compatible with different e-book formats. They have to draw people to that site and handle financial transactions and customer service and all the other million things that go along with selling stuff. It takes massive scale.
If I were to try to pull this off as a self-publisher, even on a smaller scale, I’d still miss out on being discovered by people who hadn’t heard of me but were recommended within the e-book stores, where the majority of people will be looking for their books for the foreseeable future. Would the extra 30% of selling the e-books myself and getting 100% of the revenue be worth the hassle and potential lost sales and the cost/pain of maintaining some sort of sales infrastructure? I’m not so sure. Even if a cheap and easy sales distribution platform emerges there are still headaches involved in being a vendor.
There is certainly a possibility of fragmentation in the e-book marketplace if, say, a major publisher or two or three decided they only wanted to sell e-books directly to consumers in Pottermore-esque fashion and withdrew from Amazon and B&N and iBooks. That could really shake up the book world.
But as revolutionary as Pottermore is, I still have a hard time seeing the utopia of an author doing everything themselves from writing to selling ever being the norm.
At least, not until I get my hands on a time-turner.