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.


  1. i’m glad she’s (finally!) seeing the money — ahem, i mean the light — about ebooks, but the reason i won’t buy them from her is because she’s using Overdrive. i like Overdrive just fine for renting library books, but for something i pay for, it really bugs me that Overdrive or whoever can just delete them from my device whenever they want, like they do with books i download from my library. i will pay to OWN, not to rent.

  2. Franko: I don’t understand what you’re talking about. OverDrive can’t delete e-books from your device. In the case of library e-books, the DRM is marked with an expiration date, and the e-book becomes unusable on that date, but it’s not deleted. With no DRM, there isn’t even a way to set an expiration date.

    Besides, Rowling isn’t using OverDrive’s library system anyway. She’s using their e-bookstore services, presumably the same MIDAS service that Harlequin uses for selling e-books. (Harlequin sells some non-DRMed e-books under the Carina Press imprint.)

    Once you download the e-book, you’ve got it.

  3. As to other authors creating the same kind of website, sure, we all will when we become fabulously wealthy from our books, movies, and franchise merchandise and can afford to.

    By selling only from her website, JKR will also be helping those who are fighting fake online bookstores selling stolen books. The presence of the HP books as ebooks have been the smoking gun for years on sites that look legitimate but aren’t.

  4. I am a great admirer of Rowling and I don’t begrudge her the fortune she has made. She provide the most marvellous and successful motivation to my son and a whole bunch of his friends to start reading when all else was failing.

    The suggestion that this will be some kind of litmus paper or test of the illegal downloader’s motivations etc etc. Harry Potter is a unique case and cannot imho be used as any kind of test. Anyone who is or has actively considered downloading will have any moral qualms they may have assuaged by the mega fortune she has earned – and I have to say that I can understand that completely. This is one of those cases where I honestly feel greed is driving the desire to earn yet more money from a piece of writing. If Rowling had any vestige of decency she would deliver these books free in perpetuity.

    If the price is right however I will be an early customer as I have never read any of the books – but I will be removing every vestige of the spyware watermark immediately after downloading.

    The coverage in the UK newspapers today has included the report that this site is considered by Rowling as a ‘give-back’ to fans. I think she is rather deluded if she really thinks this. However with that kind of massive fortune I am not surprised she has lost contact with reality so quickly.

    • You “don’t begrudge her the fortune she has made” but “honestly feel greed is driving the desire to earn yet more money”?

      Frankly, I think she’s entitled to whatever money people want to pay her in return for her products. If she prices too high, people won’t want to pay her. That’s how the market works.

      It’s always annoyed me that the morality of earning money by selling your work seems to vary depending on how much money you already have.

  5. It’s good that she’s not using DRM but is using watermarking/social tagging. That sets a good example for other successful authors to follow. Digital books shouldn’t have any more limitations than their print cousins. And without DRM, the ebooks should be readable on almost any platform.

  6. @Doug — well, i admit that i’ve only used Overdrive (to date) for library books on my ipad, but when my library book “rental date” is up, i only have the option to delete the book, or ignore the notice and close out the program. if the book isn’t deleted immediately, i have no way of really telling from within the app. i was just assuming that they would have the same sort of control over books that they sold.

  7. Chris wrote:
    “You “don’t begrudge her the fortune she has made” but “honestly feel greed is driving the desire to earn yet more money”?”

    Yes I do. Unbelievable greed.

    “It’s always annoyed me that the morality of earning money by selling your work seems to vary depending on how much money you already have.”

    It annoys me that people who amass fabulous wealth always see to want more and more and more and more … It is a kind of uncontrollable avarice and I think it is some kind of illness that takes hold.

  8. Rich or not, I think this is excellent and unexpected news. As long as the prices aren’t stupid, I might consider finally buying and reading the Harry Potter series, since I was waiting for ebook versions. DRM free is total icing on the cake.

  9. Hopefully the ‘watermarking’ will be done really well — an elegant page at the front of the book or similar.

    I note that there will be translations available in various languages. I wonder if the British English and American English versions will both be available, or just the British English one. I suspect the latter.

    If the price isn’t silly, I’ll buy them to have legitimate versions. I hope there will be a mechanism in place to report errors. I suspect that they will get very close examination and comparison with the print books (& current unauthorised ebooks).

    At Amazon.co.uk, the first book is available in paperback for £4.29, and the others for prices between that and £5.90. There’s also a boxed paperback set for £34.79.

    So if the ebooks are more than £3.99 per ebook, I won’t be buying them. I’d hope that they come in at £2.99 or £3.49. If they came in at £1.99 each or less, and the watermarking is done really well, I’d consider getting sets for each of my children.

  10. This is great news. I hope that she makes available the British English version, I would love to have a ecopy of HP & Philosopher’s Stone. If the prices are decent I could end up buying the entire series. Hopefully the fact that she is cutting out the Retailer (30%) and maybe part of the publisher (X%?) will help keep the prices down. (Although I do suspect that she has deals with the publishers for some revenue sharing.

    She has a huge advantage over other self publishers. When she self publishes ebooks, it is international news months in advance and will be reported in every major news outlet.

  11. @Howard — You wrote: “If Rowling had any vestige of decency she would deliver these books free in perpetuity.”

    Sounds a lot like the “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” philosophy of civilization. I guess that means you offer your IT skills “free” to anyone who wants to use them.

  12. This initially struck me as her calling a press conference to say that, “I have decided to stop being a stubborn fool.”

    @Howard, I wouldn’t necessarily attribute it to greed. There is nothing wrong with maximizing the profit. She might have decided that she can do more charitable good with the money she earns then simply giving the books away for free.

  13. @Rob

    It seems a waste of an opportunity to make the watermark completely invisible. OTOH, I’d object strongly if the watermark was visible while reading.

    Author M. David Blake did a splendid promotion with his rather nice short story “We Don’t Plummet out of the Sky Anymore”. He did a signed and numbered page at the start of each book of a special “Signature” edition. http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=90082

    Of course, there’s no way that JK Rowling could do hand signed front plates. But there could be a very nicely designed page with your name and a serial number, along with a facsimile thank you note from JK.

    I guess we’ll just have to wait until October.

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