Katniss might be the biggest teenager in fiction this year, but never underestimate the lasting influence of The Boy Who Refuses To Die, who is making news once again today. Starting immediately, you can visit shop.pottermore.com and buy all seven Harry Potter books as ebooks. Audiobooks are available, too, although if you’re looking for enhanced ebook editions you’re going to have to wait a while longer.
The Potter brand is so powerful that Rowling’s team was able to push through some important changes in how the books will be sold. These changes are very friendly to both consumers and public libraries, so I hope Pottermore succeeds and becomes the model for best practices in ebook retailing.
The first big change is where the ebooks will be sold. You can only buy them through Pottermore, so for example if you go to Amazon and search for them, you’ll be redirected back to Pottermore. Futurebook, which is where I got most of this news, notes that Apple refused Pottermore’s terms, so you won’t see Harry Potter on the Apple iBooks Store. (Fortunately iBooks syncs unlocked EPUB files–see below–so your bookmarks and notes will still work if you read a Pottermore edition in iBooks.)
The second big change–and the one that I hope publishers everywhere seriously consider–is how DRM will work. Instead of locking consumers down with single-platform editions that can’t be transferred to another platform in the future (e.g. from Nook to iBooks), Pottermore will provide an unlocked EPUB file as well as let you directly push the book to your specific device, whether it’s a Kindle or a Nook or a Sony Reader. More important, at least when it comes to future-proofing your purchases, Pottermore will only use social DRM, meaning it will add a unique identifier to each copy so that it can track it back to the original buyer should it show up on a pirate sight. Futurebook says if you push the file to your Kindle or Nook, then Amazon or B&N will add their own encryption DRM to the file, which is something I haven’t tested yet but it doesn’t sound reasonable. (To my knowledge, Amazon doesn’t force DRM on any ebooks it sells; publishers have to specifically add it. In general, Amazon relies on its proprietary AZW format to keep consumers locked in.)
In plain language, this means you can read your Harry Potter ebooks on a wide range of devices without having to worry about DRM encryption errors.
If you’ve been following the awfulness that is the library ebook saga–where most of the major publishers have either implemented restrictive lending limits or stopped selling libraries ebook editions altogether–there’s some good news here, too. Pottermore is offering ebook editions to libraries under a five-year unlimited lending license.
The reason Pottermore can switch to social DRM and set fairer terms for public libraries is simple: because it’s selling the files directly, it can establish policies that are better for consumers while still great for the author/publisher. If Pottermore had to sell directly through retailers like Amazon or Apple, it would be forced to submit to those companies’ self-serving policies, many of which (like platform lock-in and DRM encryption) aren’t good for publishers or consumers.
To me, that’s the most important aspect to this story: that Pottermore is testing the viability of a real alternative to the current sales model. It’s too bad that the big publishers (excepting Random House) foolishly pushed an agency model–and exposed themselves to charges of collusion in the process–instead of trying something more innovative like this. Maybe, if Pottermore’s strategy proves successful, it will give all publishers hard evidence that there are better ways to approach ebookselling.
(Harry Potter Cutout: Tess Milligan)