Pottermore or Less?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last week bestselling author JK Rowling unveiled plans for a new e-bookstore and fan focused website called Pottermore. The Guardian book blog called the move pure ‘marketing genius‘ while others expressed disappointment that the webpage didn’t live up to all the anticipation and hype (so far you can only register interest, full details aren’t available on the website as yet).

The current description is that Pottermore will provide a ‘free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books’. Exactly what that will entail isn’t certain – although what is certain is that JK Rowling was very savvy when it came to withholding digital rights to the Harry Potter books until now. With the Pottermore website, Rowling has sidestepped all the middlemen to maintain control over content, pricing and distribution for all her Harry Potter e-books. Pretty impressive.

Wired Magazine hailed the move as book publishing’s ‘Radiohead moment’ (in reference to their self-released album) pointing out that JK Rowling is the most significant author yet to turn her back on the established publishing houses when it comes to digital books (although she is maintaining links to her traditional publishers Scholastic or Boomsbury). She has even come up with a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book, and as her books are apparently going to be available in a compatible form for all e-reader platforms, the books aren’t tied to any particular e-reader device.

Although Rowling called her move a ‘way to give back to the fans’ clearly she stands to make a great deal more money going it alone that she would if she were merely receiving royalties for e-books from her publisher. I also think she will be able to cleverly direct fans to additional interactive content that will no doubt expand her readership as well as entice those who already own her books to purchase e-book copies as well.

All in all, I feel this may well be a watershed moment – one that a number of bestselling authors (and lesser mortals) will be watching carefully. What do you think? Could this be the final ‘aha’ moment for the publishing world?