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Wired has an extensive report on J.K. Rowling’s rumor-surrounded “Pottermore” website, which is due to launch in October (just in time for Halloween). The big part of the story of interest to TeleRead readers is that Pottermore will be the exclusive outlet for the Harry Potter e-books, and the e-books will be DRM-free (albeit digitally watermarked with the identity of the purchaser), meaning (as least as far as Wired claims) that they will not be locked into any one device or platform.

The first e-book will be available at launch, in multiple languages, with others to follow in coming months. The article doesn’t say anything about the e-book pricing; I would hope it won’t be more than $9.99 per e-book, and preferably less, but we’ll probably see how that goes when it gets closer to release. I’m certainly curious how well this watermarking will survive if people use Calibre or other conversion programs to change the DRM-free e-books into the formats of their choice.

But regardless, this is certainly a wise choice on Rowling’s part. The Harry Potter e-books are quite possibly among the most widely-pirated e-books in the history of the Internet—just about anybody who wants a DRM-free copy already has one. Such downloaders would have little other incentive than “supporting the author” to buy something that was more locked-down than what they could get from peer-to-peer. (And as much money as Rowling has made from Harry Potter already, many pirates might find further “supporting” her to be a relatively weak incentive on its own.)

Not only does going DRM-free remove issues involving supporting one proprietary platform at the expense of another, or forking over a percentage of receipts to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Apple, it also throws down the gauntlet to people who (say they) only pirate books because their format of choice isn’t available. I hope such people will buy these books in support of the DRM-free decision.

By publishing on her own website, Rowling adds: “We can guarantee that people everywhere are getting the same experience at the same time. That was extremely appealing to me. I am lucky to have the resources to do it myself and I think this is a fantastic and unique experience that I could afford to take my time over to make this come alive. There was really no way to do it for the fans or me than just do it myself. Not every author could do this, but it’s right for Harry Potter. It is so much fun to have direct content with my fans. It was an extension of the existing jkrowling.com.”

The website is also going to be an “immersive experience” with new content for viewers to explore even if they don’t buy the e-books. There will be games and virtual spaces to explore, and more than 18,000 words so far of new Potter-related content. And Rowling has taken a hands-on approach to the site, staying involved in the creative process (contributing questions to the “Sorting Hat” and “Wand Chooser” games, for example).

Wired speculates that Rowling’s commitment to e-books and the digital space might be “a significant driver of the e-book and e-book reader industry”. I don’t know whether I would go that far, but it is certainly going to be interesting to see what effect Rowling’s e-book-plus-extra-content portal has on the way other authors and publishers sell their e-books. By combining everything into a single immersive experience, rather than shopping books piecemeal to various stores, Rowling could be setting an example for other authors—but can anyone except the most-bestselling authors benefit from this approach?

In any case, it’s good that Rowling has finally committed. I will be looking forward to seeing just what these DRM-free-but-watermarked e-books are like.

 
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