Potter E-books - Magical or Just Muggle Mischief?

Howdy Gang! Not going to lie, life is pretty swell in South Texas this time of year. Not too hot, never cold. Wild flowers seem to cover everything that isn't paved. Lots of rain too, which I couldn't say--well, the entirety of last year really. In fact, if you'd have been here just a few months ago you might be surprised to see anything growing at all. I know most of us locals are.

You see the entire place--I'm talking ALL of Texas, and it's a big dude--was burning up. Literally. In September, Bastrop County caught fire. Less than a one hour drive from my home some 34,000 acres burned, over a 77 square mile area. That's about three times the size of Manhattan Island. Well over 1,500 homes were destroyed. And that was just one (albeit the largest) of our fires last year. There were 27,000+ wild fires reported in the state in 2011. (Not a misprint, that's 27 with a K.)

Drought was to blame. It just didn't rain. None. For months and months and months. Then it got really hot. San Antonio had 57 days of 100 F or over temperatures in 2011 (I think our average is around 9 per year). The combined effect put us on the brink of becoming a burned out desert, and that's no overstatement. 

Now, less than a year later, my yard is green, the bugs are out and my roses are even blooming!

Just goes to show that the world keeps plowing ahead, never looking back. Nature doesn't care what happened last year, just give it some water and you'll see. 

I think Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is forcing the publishing industry to do the same.

The Harry Potter series is perhaps the most popular book franchise of all time. All told, well over 400 million copies have been sold worldwide. 8.3 million copies of the seventh (and final) book in the series were sold in the first 24 hours of its release (way back in 2007 ... yes, we're that old), making it the fastest selling book of all time. Suffice to say, they're kind of a big deal. (More details can be found here.) 

Fast forward to now...

Electronic books are a big deal and getting bigger by the month. In 2011, the e-book market generated just shy of $2 billion in the U.S., and that's projected to be somewhere north of $5 billion in five years. (More here.) That's just the U.S. mind you. With little provinces like China being relatively new passengers aboard the e-book express, who knows what kind of growth we'll see globally.

It's not a slam on paper publishing, it's just the digitization of the world we live in. It has happened to medical records, music, banking and everything else under the sun. Now it's happening to books. And it has been happening for a while now.

You can tell from our faces that Ron, Harry, Hermione and I think this is serious business.
So why then, is the most beloved book franchise of our time just now getting the digital treatment? Most of that has to do with the author. You see, when J.K. Rowling first published Potter in 1995 (now you feel REALLY old, right?), electronic rights weren't part of the negotiations. Her publisher didn't buy them, just the print (and audio and whatever else was standard for the time). Major oops. Not their fault, but major oops nonetheless.  

Trust me, if Bloomsburry/Scholastic had had the e-rights, we'd have had Kindle versions three years ago. Just too much money to be had. Instead, we waited. More than anything, it seems we had to wait for J.K. to get comfortable with the idea. (And she certainly didn't need the money right away, did she?) 

No, J.K. needed to embrace the idea of e-books. You can read an interview she did in June of last year HERE where she discusses the role of e-books in her life (the beauty of taking 50 books on vacation with no extra luggage, downloading stories on the go for her children, etc.) 

She also had to overcome her fear of piracy. She put on record many times that the idea of people being able to run wild with her property on the Internet was a primary objection to her books being digitized. An irony of sorts, because the Harry Potter books have been a hot item on the digital black market for years. Some have even theorized her reluctance to publish a legitimate digital copy has only exacerbated the issue. 

Lego Harry would use a forbidden curse on pirates. Don't let the smile fool you...
Whatever the case, the wait is over. As of this week, you can now download fully legal copies of all 7 books in all their digital glory for your Kindle, Nook, Kobo--well, anything really. By legal I mean you have to pay for them, of course. 

But the 'why' really isn't the important part. It's more about the 'how'. 

In a move straight out of the playbook titled, Oprah: Seven Ways to Dominate Everything You Touch - Billionaires Only Addition, J.K. created her own gigantic website, refused to sell her books on anything but her website, and essentially squeezed until the retail giants of the world agreed to play with her. Yes, you can go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble to purchase the Potter e-books, but they just route you around to her site.

Did I mention J.K. has the electronic rights and therefore keeps (according to estimates) 70-90% of every dime she makes? No subsidiary. No 15-30% cut for the author. No distributor cut. So when you purchase the $7.99 to $9.99 book (depending upon which book in the series you buy) through her Pottermore site, J.K.'s cash register rings to the tune of $6 - $9. Amazing! 

Can you imagine going to Amazon and saying, "Hey, I want you to advertise my books, but you can't distribute them or otherwise benefit. You just get to put my name up and have a link in your book store." And then imagine Amazon begging you for the opportunity. 

It's called ultimate power, and it's something very few of us will ever get to taste for ourselves outside of deciding if we want fries with our meals.    

But even if we don't wield the power of the Elder Wand, this turn of events holds the potential to change life for all kinds of authors. (Even the non-billionaires types.) I'd wager digital rights conversations between agents and publishers are getting more heated by the minute. 

And as I say, it doesn't just apply to the big dogs. After all, who knows what and how something becomes as popular as Harry Potter. We DO know J.K.'s rags to riches story (my thoughts). We DO know how very few people, in the beginning, thought the books would be successful, even on a small scale. Who's to say you're not next?

It's not just big news for publishers, either. This could be a moment where Amazon and other retailers are put on notice. Maybe they can't make all of the rules going forward, as so many Indie authors and traditional publishers are worried? 

Perhaps this proves that if an author gets big enough, they can hang their own shingle? And make no mistake, it's the big name authors that make the business go round, so when they talk others listen. Furthermore, I'll be surprised if more publishers don't start pushing direct e-book sales as a result of Pottermore. Most of the big publishers despise Amazon anyway, so why not ride J.K.'s coattails into a new era to table turning? 

And we won't even go to the, "if it succeeds" kind of talk. It's Harry Potter. It's going to generate millions PERIOD 

Also, don't be quick to think that no true Indie e-book author will ever be able to pull off that level of fame without the help of a big publisher and big advertising. 

There are John Locke's and Amanda Hocking's out there who've done loads more (already) on their own than anyone thought possible just a couple of years ago. I'm fairly convinced there will be many more millionaire authors who've never published traditionally as we move forward.

My questions for you: Is this a watershed moment in publishing? Or is this just an isolated case, never to be replicated by anyone else? (Mischief managed?) 

Do you think publishing is pretty much the same as it has always been? If it isn't, do you think it can/will return to that point? 



  1. I think it's changing. I know several other authors with big publishers who are publishing their own eBooks, which means they get most of the money. Take someone really big like Rowling to do exactly what she did though, but I'm sure many will follow suit and see what happens.

  2. I didn't realize that Rowling had negotiated such an awesome position for herself. It's nice to see that someone is powerful enough to crack through even Amazon.

    I guess this is, in a sense, following a pattern that the music industry went through a while back? Remember when Radiohead decided to direct release "In Rainbows"?

  3. I think that things have changed and that we can't exactly go back to the way they were before. Pandora's box has been opened. I'm actually enjoying the ride, though, seeing where this leads!

  4. Publishing has changed big time. Great post E.J. I can totally imagine a Wesleymore.com site next to Pattersonmore and Pottermore. :)

  5. Thanks for the heads up. Maybe I'll read them now.

  6. No doubt about it, EJ. Publishing is changing at the speed of light. I've been in the business, first as a conventionally-published author and now as a self-published author, and it's changed dramatically.

  7. Oh man... You are making me feel old! LOL. What a fascinating post. I really enjoyed this---lots of great info.

  8. Firstly, I love Spaceballs! lol.

    Secondly, to answer your question. Yes and no. It's unlikely that anyone else is going to weild that kind of power over the legendary mass known as Amazon, but it does pave the way for improved conditions for publishers and authors.

  9. It's changing in leaps and bounds!

    Oh, and Lego Harry is evil... for the simple fact that Lego is evil. Just saying...

  10. Maybe now that these are on ebook, I'll go and read them.


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