Harry Potter and the Digital Copy

This week saw the announcement and launch of the Harry Potter franchise on e-book formats, though the details of this particular deal are remarkably different from previous, “traditional” book launches on Amazon’s Kindle or B&N’s Nook.  Through the Pottermore website, you can buy the first three books for $8 each and the final four books for $10 each.  Once you buy a book through Pottermore, you can choose up to 8 different formats to get that book, so if you want it through Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, Google Books, etc., you can do it.  Buy it once, read it where you like.  Once you assign it to a format (e.g. Amazon), you can download it as many times as you want through that carrier.

For the uninitiated, this is not how it usually goes, and this is a problem that the “Power of Potter” is helping solve.  It used to be that you could go to any bookstore you want and buy that book.  You could sell it, you could move it, you could loan it to a friend, and you could pass it down to your kids someday.  With e-readers, it doesn’t work like that.  If you buy a book from Amazon for your Kindle, but then you decide to switch to the Nook, you don’t get to take that book with you: you have to buy it again.  Furthermore, while you can loan said book to friends, you can only do it if they have the same e-reader format (i.e. Kindle can lend to Kindle and Nook can lend to Nook, but not to each other…though there are ways around it…), and you can only do it for something like 2 weeks at a time.

Then there was another thing I recently read about what J.K. Rowling did with the “Potter” books, specifically with regards to libraries:

Among the other innovations Rowling offers is the ability to download up to eight digital copies of each book, either for use on another device or for lending. Again, this seems like an obvious feature that e-book publishers could provide — since digital copies effectively have no cost — but very few do. And at a time when publishers either don’t allow their books to be loaned through libraries at all (as most of the Big Six do not) or have jacked up the prices they charge libraries (as Random House recently did), the Potter books can be loaned an unlimited number of times, and the lending license lasts for five years.

This is a big deal.  Publishers have complained since e-readers first took hold that they lose revenue when libraries lend out e-reader copies of books.  With physical books, libraries would buy books for a flat fee and then lend them out, but the understanding was that libraries would have to buy new books to replace others that had undergone too much wear and tear.  This doesn’t happen with digital copies of books, however, so the publishers created licenses that granted libraries a limited number of “slots” for each book (i.e. the number of people that can have a copy of the book at a given time) and a limited number of “lends” (i.e. the number of times each “slot” can be sent out).  Libraries have found e-books to be very useful to their patrons, so they’re getting popular, but the book publishers still aren’t reaping the revenues they think they should.  Thus, as mentioned above, publishers like Random House are trying to either reduce the number of “lends” for each license, or increase the cost of the license.

Because of the power behind the “Harry Potter” brand, Rowling is able to buck this trend.  She holds the rights, she dictates the terms.  And for once, the individual in control realizes they have enough money, so they do what’s fair.  You get that license for a Harry Potter book and it can be loaned out to as many people that want it and the license needs to be renewed every 5 years.  Spectacular.

The article quoted above also quoted the new CEO of Pottermore, Charlie Redmayne, who used to work at HarperCollins.  He was talking about what book publishers could learn from the music industry as they went through similar “growing pains” a decade ago:

My view is that the one thing we should learn from the music industry, is that one of the best ways of fighting back against piracy is making content available to consumers at a platform they want to purchase it on, and at a price they are willing to pay, and if you do that most people will instinctively want to buy it.

I’ve said this before, so I won’t go over it again.  Suffice to say, I agree completely.

Regardless, I’m glad that J.K. Rowling is shifting her considerable weight in the industry to move the ball a bit closer to where it should be.  It’s great to see some progress on this front.

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