March 28, 2012

Harry Potter and the really powerful ebooks


It was hard to go onto the internet yesterday without having to hear about Harry Potter being a force for world change again. In case you spent the day under a rock or — egads! — just don’t care about Harry Potter, well, there are aspects of the story you should probably be aware of. So, let us shorthand it for you and then we can both have done with it.

What happened was this: J.K. Rowling announced that the Potter books — I think there are seven of them — would finally be available as ebooks. This is something, especially, has been chomping at the bit for. But, as a Wired story reports, “if you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before — a landing page with links that send you away to buy the book elsewhere.”

That “elsewhere” is Rowling’s work-around for avoiding publishers — her much vaunted website, Pottermore — which didn’t launch her mysterious new content for children last year when it was supposed to, but did activate its shopping pages big time yesterday. As it turns out, the site is also a work-around for avoiding retailers, or at least, it reduces them to mere marketplace sellers. As the Wired story goes on to explain,

Harry Potter is the only publishing brand big enough (so far) to break all the rules about how e-bookstores work. Instead of being sold through the retailers and their devices, or even through the publishers, all sales are made through a site owned and branded by the author. Rowling and Pottermore convinced retailers to digitally support the books with device syncing, bookmarks, and all the trappings that usually are only provided for books sold through the retailers’ own sites.

So, to recap, J.K. Rowling has launched ebooks of the Potter books without cutting in the people who made the first huge investment in her work, her publishers; and she has figured out how to get the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon, to feed her customers who can nonetheless only buy the book at her own personal website … which means Amazon is getting only a miniscule cut, such as you would get for having an Amazon link on your blog that led to a sale.

That, ladies and gents, is every self-published author’s wet dream. That’s also what you call power in the book buisness.

A Wall Street analyst draws some surprising conclusions about the deal in the video below, which appeared on some kind of two-headed love child of a website born of the Washington Post and Bloomberg BusinessweekGene Munster of Piper Jaffray Companies says this is really bad news for the publisher; not-so-good news for Amazon; and good news for Apple (apparently, even though they can’t sell the Potter ebooks because Rowling isn’t using the agency model). He also says Barnes & Noble is not really a factor in the discussion because — as we’ve been saying at MobyLives for a while — he doesn’t think the company is going to be around much longer.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.