The Harry Potter series may take place in the modern world, but it’s always been somewhat removed from it, emphasizing magic and wizarding dynasties over digital technology. The same has held true for the actual books, which have always been sold in print or boxed audiobook versions but never as ebooks, which Rowling dismissed at least as far back as 2005.
Around this time last year, Rowling started hinting that she was no longer completely against having official ebook editions, but nothing more came of it other than a few hopeful articles and blog posts.
But today she finally made an official announcement (one that neatly coincides with the growing marketing push for the final movie). She’s come around to ebooks:
“E-books are here and here to stay. Later than a lot of people, I for the first time downloaded ebooks and it’s miraculous for travel and for children in particular. I feel great about taking Harry into this new medium.”
Accordingly, in October she’ll start selling official DRM-free ebook editions and digital versions of the audiobooks from her own website, Pottermore, which will also be a free online reading community that will contain new Potter-related writing that hasn’t been published before.
Some interesting details of the arrangement:
- Rowling will sell the ebooks, not Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, or any other retailer, but they’ll be compatible across all of the major ebook devices.
- Sony will be handling the online community aspects of the site for easier hacking and account thievery. (Oh snap!)
- The cross-compatibility editions will be managed by OverDrive, the company that handles the vast majority of library ebook lending in the U.S.
- The website will soft launch on July 31st with one million members, then launch officially in October with the accompanying ebook store.
- The site will feature newly-commissioned illustrations and interactive experiences, like shopping for a the right wand or being sorted by the Sorting Hat, that you can participate in as you read the corresponding chapters in the books—think of it as an enhanced ebook where all the enhancement is hosted online.
Although the details on translations and regional availability are a little fuzzy, The Globe and Mail says the website will launch in English, French, German and Spanish, and also says that the ebook editions will be made available in multiple languages.
I don’t know who owns the ebook rights to HP… (Update: Rowling indeed holds the ebook rights, not her print publishers, reports Wired UK.)
As for the cross-platform compatibility, which I’d say is the real magic Rowling is performing here, my guess is that it will be possible because of Amazon’s upcoming move to work with OverDrive to allow library lending of the Kindle format. This also suggests that Amazon will launch its U.S. library lending program by October. Update: Via The Digital Reader, the ebooks will be DRM-free but watermarked with the purchaser’s identity to dissuade rampant piracy, so it looks like this isn’t dependent upon Amazon’s library lending program after all.
Another mystery is how the online community will work, and what “free” actually gets you in terms of content on Pottermore. The Bookseller notes that Rowling has 18,000 words worth of new content, including some backstory on Professor McGonagall, that will be available exclusively on the new site.
[Owl image via Pottermore.com]