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Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM

Why publishers should take a note from J.K. Rowling's latest effort.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale“). It’s republished with permission.


PottermoreIt took her a while, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks. Last week’s Pottermore announcement featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it. Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book’s spine. Although that’s often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies. It’s an experience, or so I’m told. (I’m not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans. And so via Pottermore, the author doesn’t need any of the big names in ebook retailing. Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it? And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices, and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?

It’s not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan. What blows my mind is that more publishers aren’t doing the same. Sure, you’ll find publisher websites selling PDFs. Some even offer other formats. But rarely do you find a publisher’s website with all the popular ebook formats. Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you’ll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore. I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on oreilly.com.

The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks. Here’s an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn’t need DRM, why does your book?! If you ditch DRM you’ll be able to offer all the formats. You’ll show your customers you trust them and you’ll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.

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  • http://librairie.immateriel.fr Xavier Cazin

    Regarding your point about multi-format offers that become a lot easier without DRM, I’d add that it is one of the place where independent bookstores could actually differentiate from Amazon or Apple and attract different kind of customers.

    Unfortunately, publishers often keep these multi-format offers for their exclusive use, based on the belief that it is bad practice to assign one EAN to a set of files : http://isbn-international.org/faqs/view/17#q_1 is often misread, as nothing requires that these different formats should be made separately available.

    Regards,
    Xavier.

  • Canuck

    Joe, read the first chapter of the first book. You can stop after that, if you want.

  • Dave Parker

    JKR doesn’t trust her customers completely, the ebooks are still watermarked.

    This is much better than DRM though. Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend.

  • christian k

    ZOMG JKR has a website?? With books on it!!! How revolutionary!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://heartpress.com/ SL Clark

    Hi Joe,

    Dave’s right, Overdrive is going to handle the delivery side. She’s not going anywhere near the lengths maverick ORA has been doing for years. My big hope, she has the Oomph to get Amazon’s new tablet (due in Aug/Sep) to include ePub.

  • Adam

    How do you read “proprietary format” as being that all the popular formats are available? It sounds like what’s more likely is that the popularity of Harry Potter might twist the arms of all the various readers to allow the reading of this format (whatever it is).
    Also, Joe, ask around your resident experts again: My guess is that they’re going to tell you that the interactive reading experience on pottermore.com is a MUCH bigger deal than mere e-books.
    It still blows me away that everyone’s focusing on the e-book aspect and letting the primary part of the website go completely ignored…

  • Jag Venugopal

    What’s ridiculous in today’s ebook world is that many times the ebook costs more than the paperback on Amazon.

    Now I’m not expecting publishers to make everything free, but surely they do not have greater expenses in creating an ebook than they have in purchasing paper, printing, binding, shipping, and handling returns for a paperback?

    And if after paying that kind of money, if one were to strip off the DRM on a book (so they could, for example, read the book they purchased on their Kindle and their spouse’s Nook), then they would be in violation of the law.

    Kudos to O’Reilly and now, JK Rowling, for going down a different path. Precisely because O’Reilly does not impose DRM on me, I have made it my primary destination for computer books. Perhaps I ought to buy my kids the entire Harry Potter series and load it on the Sony Pocket reader that’s sitting in my gadget drawer.

  • Bob

    I hear your point about DRM, but this report from the Android market suggests that DRM is a big part of success when piracy is common.

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/mobile/2011/06/developer-makes-750000-dollars-in-three-weeks-on-android-market.php

    It’s one thing to encourage DRM-free books when most users are honest but once the book readers learn to use the torrent feeds, I’m afraid that it’s impossible to make money without DRM.

  • CVBruce

    Watermarked eBooks. I wonder how many people will sign up with names like Servius Snape so that their ebook will be watermarked with:

    From the library of Servius Snape.