Six Years Later, JK Rowling Realizes Ebooks Are A Good Idea… And She Cuts Out The Middleman

from the leapfrog dept

It’s been six years since we first wrote about JK Rowling’s confused refusal to offer an ebook, claiming she was worried about “piracy.” Of course, as we explained back then, the argument made no sense, since others had already digitized her books, and the only choice for those who wanted ebook options was to go with an infringing copy. In other words, her moves actually encouraged a lot more “piracy.” And while there have been rumors in the past of her growing recognition that ebooks aren’t evil, she’s now decided to embrace them in a huge way. She’s setting up her own Harry Potter-themed site, Pottermore, which will offer ebook versions of all her books for a variety of platforms — all direct from her. In other words, she’s mostly gone around publishers and booksellers, and has decided to go fully direct to fan (while she retains the rights, apparently she is giving her publishes some cut). Wow. Oh, and no DRM (though it will have an identifying watermark).

On top of that, it looks like she’s really trying to add more value, as well. The site is going to have social networking features to connect fans of the books, and will also include extra (and new) content (both written and graphical), which apparently will continue to grow over time. The whole thing is set up as an interactive and immersive experience. Basically, she’s very nicely realized that she can do more beyond just the book. While I’ve had my problems with Rowling’s approach to the online world in the past, this seems like a huge leap forward. And, yes, she’s in a different position than most authors, but I think any author will be able to learn from this, if just to recognize that you can do more to connect with fans outside of just the straight book experience.

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Comments on “Six Years Later, JK Rowling Realizes Ebooks Are A Good Idea… And She Cuts Out The Middleman”

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Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Overdrive. They probably also run it for her, and take a commision.

But I expect it will be tiny compared to a traditional publisher’s cut.
What do you expect her to do? Write all the html herself?

BTW, her publisher Bloomsbury is also getting a cut, although it’s not clear how much. She didn’t bypass them.

Probably because she couldn’t, given existing contracts – that will be different for newer authors without a legacy tie-in.

bordy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…while she retains the rights, apparently she is giving her publishes some cut….

This little bit interested me too. Perhaps someone with more insight into this industry can indulge me: is this sort of concession typically made out of goodwill, bona fide contractual obligations, or is it just a bone tossed to avoid litigation?

(the cynic in me already knows the answer)

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The site was built by Overdrive. They probably also run it for her, and take a commision. That makes them just as much a middleman as if she sold the ebooks through Amazon.

Whoosh! That was the sound of the point going over your head. In the normal run of things, the publisher would have hired Overdrive and/or placed the books on Amazon. In those case, she did it herself. The middleman that she cut out was the publisher.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From what I have read the only thing that will be sold on the site is the ebooks themselves. Everything else will be free. From all the extra information that she is adding to all the interaction.

Its easy to lump her into the category of milking the cow but I don’t think she is in this case. She is embracing ebooks and making a site to encourage more people to participate.

out_of_the_blue says:

"the only choice for those who wanted ebook options"

NO, doing without an ebook was the other “choice”, arguably “right” as the author for whatever reasons didn’t put it out in that medium. You give credence to the copyright fascists that you’re pro-piracy by omission in this simple case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "the only choice for those who wanted ebook options"

And in Rowling’s case, her stance against ebooks because of “piracy” concerns, simply ensured that ebooks were only available by piracy and people who would have been giving her even more money didn’t have that option.

Now, belatedly, she has realised that the people who want to buy her stuff, are the people she needs to be offering her stuff to and taking money from, to some it sounds outlandish, but it is in fact business.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: "the only choice for those who wanted ebook options"

Mike’s points are about dealing with reality, not the fantasy world the RIAA MPAA etc have in their heads.

Totally agree with you. The same can be said for Mike’s Connect With Fans (CwF) + Reason To Buy (RtB)

Q: How to make money?

A: Give the people what they want.

If Rowling had released an audiobook of Harry Potter on 8-track tape, she could blame piracy when someone released an mp3, but illegality issues aside, it would ultimately be her fault for not making a profit because… “she did not give the people what they wanted”. I think that is where “the customer is always right” phrase comes most into play.

DogBreath says:


There are so many examples of businesses ignoring a paradigm shift until it’s too late (at their own peril and profit margin), that it’s just too easy for anyone to come to the same conclusion that many of us have already found to be true. As many people here have alluded to, some companies must be dragged kicking and screaming into the current market. Other companies have discovered the way to profit is to adapt to the new ways of doing business, whatever that reality may be. If they chose not to change or participate, that is their choice. The final outcome of whether they will survive in this new world, will ultimately be of their own making.

While this link (Four Mistakes That Killed the Record Industry Before File Sharing) may not be about books specifically, the points raised in the article are true for them, along with the movie industry and other business that seem closer every day to foundering. All because of bad decisions made long before piracy was as much of a “big problem” as it’s claimed to be today.

These “choices” appear to have been made all in the name of quick profits and not preparing for the future. If they had understood and heeded the rule that the only thing constant is change, they might have been in a better position to take advantage of the new business opportunities that are available today, rather than a too little, too late attempt to prop up their dying business models.

I think some of their current endeavors are following the “how to spend money but make no profit” business model:

PoF + RtL
Piss off Fans + Reason to Leave = $0.00

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: "the only choice for those who wanted ebook options"

only if they’re idiots (which a lot of them are).
or completely new to the site, i suppose.

given human nature, if something is not available by standard legitimate means, or non-standard legitimate means, but is available by illigitimate means that don’t actually cause anyone any harm at all from the point of view of the person in question, they will take that last option. most will prefer standard legit over non standard legit, non standard legit over illegitimate-non-harmful, and illegitimate-non-harmfull over not getting it at all.

recognizing this and telling people that if they don’t want the illigitimate methods to be used they should provide decent legitimate methods… is not actively supporting the use of illigitimate methods.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Too little too late.

It might not be the worst situation, but there are still better ways she could have dealt with it – like, say, reaching out to work with them (or have her editor work with them) to turn it into a (likely bestselling) coffee table book, with a fair profit splitting arrangement. I mean, for someone in her shoes especially, why not?

Deirdre (profile) says:

In some parts of the internet there are still people arguing up and down about those books. Some of them have built the world of Harry Potter into their delusion systems– the Snape Wives who have all married Snape on the astral plane are probably the best known. Things are going to get very interesting.

Actually, Rowling has been pretty good about noncommercial uses of her fictional world. Except for the time she sued about the use of Hogwarts castle in a religious festival in India. The Court in India behaved very well, Rowling and her advisors got a black eye.

This is a very clever way to exploit her creation though. It may start a trend.

Ric says:

Other Example of Success

John Scalzi is a good example of this. He literally made his own career by serializing his first novel and picking up a huge internet following, Then Tor was beating down HIS door to buy. He also runs a lively blog called the whatever, which apparently was popular apart from the novels.

He used the internet to create value. Check out his Google talk, where he lays all of this out.

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