Monday, June 27, 2011

Pottermore or Less?


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne



Last week bestselling author JK Rowling unveiled plans for a new e-bookstore and fan focused website called Pottermore. The Guardian book blog called the move pure 'marketing genius' while others expressed disappointment that the webpage didn't live up to all the anticipation and hype (so far you can only register interest, full details aren't available on the website as yet).

The current description is that Pottermore will provide a 'free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books'. Exactly what that will entail isn't certain - although what is certain is that JK Rowling was very savvy when it came to withholding digital rights to the Harry Potter books until now. With the Pottermore website, Rowling has sidestepped all the middlemen to maintain control over content, pricing and distribution for all her Harry Potter e-books. Pretty impressive.

Wired Magazine hailed the move as book publishing's 'Radiohead moment' (in reference to their self-released album) pointing out that JK Rowling is the most significant author yet to turn her back on the established publishing houses when it comes to digital books (although she is maintaining links to her traditional publishers Scholastic or Boomsbury). She has even come up with a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book, and as her books are apparently going to be available in a compatible form for all e-reader platforms, the books aren't tied to any particular e-reader device.

Although Rowling called her move a 'way to give back to the fans' clearly she stands to make a great deal more money going it alone that she would if she were merely receiving royalties for e-books from her publisher. I also think she will be able to cleverly direct fans to additional interactive content that will no doubt expand her readership as well as entice those who already own her books to purchase e-book copies as well.

All in all, I feel this may well be a watershed moment - one that a number of bestselling authors (and lesser mortals) will be watching carefully. What do you think? Could this be the final 'aha' moment for the publishing world?

17 comments:

  1. It could be. If this works, and other major authors follow suit, and e-readers continue to grow in functionality and popularity, can we really be all that far away from "analog" books dying out completely? At least on a mass-market scale?

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  2. It will be interesting to see - I feel like the mass market paperback is definitely a dying breed as e-books take off (and recent numbers certainly suggest that ebooks are gaining rapidly in popularity). I think perhaps the market will segment even further. We will have to wait and see how many major authors decide to launch their own e-bookstore/fan site like JK Rowling.

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  3. Rowling is an exception, obviously. The A lister of A listers. She can do this. But you can bet every other A lister is looking at how to get more e-money. If setting up their own shop is one way to do it, there will be more. I think there will also be a number of "secret" deals with existing publishers to keep A listers happy. It's really Wild West time, though, as even published writers are scouring the hills looking for strikes. It's totally unpredictable.

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  4. If this is a Radiohead moment, then does that mean that writers are going to do what many musicians do and form their own record company and then just use the the major labels for distribution? That works out really well for the people involved, the musicians maintain creative control of their work and set their own release schedules and things and then the label that carries the album makes some cash on the sales.

    The label doesn't have the cash outlay for production of said album, and doesn't waste A&R money trying to control the direction of the work.

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  5. Here is an excerpt from a Publisher's Weekly article last week about the Pottermore announcement:

    "But many people who work in publishing think that as interesting as Pottermore is, the endeavor says less about the future of book publishing than about the singular status of a very wealthy author who has the inclination and means to build her own brand."

    Once again, I believe many traditional publishers are overlooking a significant change going on in the industry. J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, has not. More power to her.

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  6. Could this be the final 'aha' moment for the publishing world?

    The publishing world doesn't have 'aha' moments, only 'oh shit' ones.

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  7. Ah, I feel like a settler on the frontier, blazing new trails, tilting at windmills, eating cheese burgers with abandon. It's as if we've stepped through a portal into an alternate universe that has silently run parallel to our own all these years but was relegated to second string reality behind the more popular of the existing realities. But now with a new reality dawning, one that we can shape ourselves for the time being, methinks its going to be a good day.

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  8. Anon - spot on:) and Basil, can I join in eating cheese burgers with abandon? I do think Rowling is an exception given her wealth and influence but that might be what it takes to shift everyone forward.

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  9. Clare, I'll have an order of virtual cheese burgers to Oz momentarily...do you want that with pickles & mayo and/or a bit of vegemite slathered on the bun?

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  10. You can hold the vegemite:)

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  11. If I had JK's fan base, I'd take over a country.

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  12. Did you know, Fredrick Forsythe was apparently part of a group that tried to do just that back in the seventies. Didn't work out though, mercs ended up in prison before a shot was fired.

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  13. I think it was genius of her to hold on to those digital rights. I'm currently stuck with terrible ebook royalties for my backlist- well under the current standard.

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  14. I think this has to be good for the rest of us trying to promote and sell our ebooks. Rowling will insert a new level of legitimacy to ebooks, which some of the big 6 publishers can't be happy about. This is another sign of how the publishing world is changing. I talk about something similar I'm trying with my blog in the following post:
    http://anabarauthor.blogspot.com/

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  15. Michelle, I agree - she was very canny to have held onto those rights. It will be interesting to see how contract negotiations alter after this and how other bestselling authors approach their digital rights.

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  16. Michelle, I agree - she was very canny to have held onto those rights. It will be interesting to see how contract negotiations alter after this and how other bestselling authors approach their digital rights.

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  17. Will, I do think it adds greater legitimacy. JRM and Basil - any excuse for a coup:)! Though I think I'd settle for my own tropical island if I was her.

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