JK Rowling and the great Pottermore scandal

For around the 475th time this decade, I’m angry on behalf of independent booksellers.

This time, it’s with JK Rowling, who in signing affiliate agreements with Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for the sale of the Harry Potter digital editions has supported the giants but locked out the indies who have hand-sold her books to millions of children all over the world.

Last week, on Tuesday, Rowling finally made the Harry Potter series available as ebooks via her Pottermore website, www.pottermore.com. The Potter stories had been conspicuously absent from ereading devices and ebookstores over the past two years as Rowling pondered and negotiated a digital way forward for the books – she had retained digital rights when signing contracts with her publishers and wanted to get the model just right.

I have no problem with her subsequent decision to sell direct to readers, ensuring that as the author, she will rake in most of the profits.

As a huge Potter fan, I can’t wait to experience the full Pottermore site once it launches in the next couple of weeks. Digital Quidditch, anyone? I’ll also be buying the entire series as ePubs and reading them all over again, and can’t wait till my toddler is old enough to read them himself.

On a positive note, Rowling has signed partnership agreements with key publishers of the print editions, like Scholastic and Bloomsbury, to provide them with an undisclosed share of ebook sales via Pottermore, which seems only fair, given the vast resources they have devoted over the years to editing the books and marketing the Potter brand as well as Rowling herself.

My problem is with the great author’s decision to allow only Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sign affiliate deals for the ebooks. This means the three retail giants (intriguingly, neither Apple nor Google has got a look in) can direct their readers via website links to Pottermore in exchange for a cut.

Indie booksellers who have hosted Potter events with schools and libraries as each of title hit the shelves, who have made their staff dress up as Ron, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore and open the store early, or stay back late, and held competitions for the best Potter costume among their junior customers, have been shut out all together. They’ve filled window displays with Potterabilia, and held tie-in events with the film adaptation, but when it comes to digital, it was all for nought.

Rowling must provide indies with the same opportunities to promote her titles to their customers as Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She owes it to them, as a mark of gratitude for the years they have spent selling Harry Potter to bookshop lovers, helping to make her the success she is today.

Indies here in Australia and all over the world are making the transition to digital. Dozens of stores here have opened ebookstores during the past 18 months. Rowling shutting them out will impact on their brands in this fledgling market, as well as on their bottom lines, indeed their futures.

Come on, JK, give your greatest supporters the respect and the opportunities they deserve. Open your affiliate program to the indies today – and at the very least before Pottermore’s big launch.

News Roundup: The Potterless is More Edition

The Pottermore ship has landed. Or at least, it has been announced. For everyone who doesn’t already know, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of novels, has finally announced her secret plans (based on rumours that have been bouncing around the internet for a while). They involve an immersive online game based on the books and a portal to buy the Harry Potter ebooks.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me in the week since this was announced whether this news will drive adoption of ebooks. The answer is – probably not. It won’t hurt, but ebooks are pretty much driving their own adoption at this point. The Pottermore announcement is good news for Harry Potter fans who are also ebook readers, in that they no longer have to go to pirate websites in order to read the novels. It will probably also sell a truckload of ebooks. But it’s also interesting because it sounds like JK Rowling is going to try to sell her ebooks exclusively from her own site without DRM, which will be an interesting digital distribution experiment. It also means it will cut out ebook vendors like Amazon. (Though apparently the backend will be handled by OverDrive, the same people who do the backend for Booku – so you never know!). Having said that, it’s an experiment that won’t have many applications in the future. The Harry Potter series is virtually unique in the publishing world – an phenomenon, written by a living author (who owns her own digital rights) with unprecedented fan attention. It’s not an experiment that can necessary be replicated elsewhere. Nonetheless, it’s fun and I’m really looking forward to delving into the new site and the new movie.

In other news, self-publisher extraordinaire John Locke has just announced that he’s sold a million ebooks. That’s a million. With six zeroes. Despite the fact that there are a legion of (clearly quite jealous) snobs who are getting predictably sniffy about Locke’s writing ability and his $0.99 price point, you can’t argue that this is not a significant milestone. At any rate there are thousands of other authors on the Kindle store with books selling for $0.99 who haven’t sold anywhere near a million copies, so the guy must be doing something right, love him or not. And now he’s written an ebook explaining how he did it: How I Sold One Million eBooks in Five Months. Curious and curioser – Mike Shatzkin thinks he might be selling better and more profitably with a traditional publisher.

In related news, an article by Laura Miller on Slate (titled Spamazon) has drawn attention to the electronic spam onslaught facing Amazon as more and more entrepreneurial authors and collators of out-of-copyright material have cottoned on to the ease of distributing so-called ebooks for a buck or two. Without the curation of either Amazon, an agent or a publisher, the market for ridiculously low-priced ebooks have become so flooded with new material that it’s virtually impossible to tell the spam from the authentic writers. Miller worries that these junk ebooks may actually end up discrediting the whole bottom tranche of cheap ebooks on Amazon – driving legitimate purchasers to the upper levels just so that people buying them will take them more seriously. I’m not sure about this, myself, but it’s certainly something to think about when pricing your self-published books (and when buying them).