Harry Potter Books Go Digital, Skip Apple’s iBookstore

| News

Harry Potter fans hoping to read the popular book series on screen instead of on printed pages won’t have to wait much longer because author J.K. Rowling has finally agreed to release the titles as ebooks. The books won’t, however, be available through Apple’s iBookstore — or any other ebook reseller — because she’s selling the ebooks through her new Pottermore Web site.

Harry Potter ebooks coming in OctoberThe Harry Potter series as ebooks in October

The Pottermore Web site will launch on July 31, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the Harry Potter book series won’t be available for purchase and download until October.

Even though Ms. Rowling won’t be selling the ebook versions of the Harry Potter series through mainstream sources, like the iBookstore or Amazon.com’s Kindle ebook store, the books will still be compatible with any ebook reader including Apple’s iPad.

Fans that sign up for free accounts at the Pottermore Web site will also get access to content that never made it into the series, such as back stories for characters such as Professor McGonagall. They can also play online games based on the seven book series.

Ms. Rowling has not yet said how much she will charge for the ebook versions of the Harry Potter series.


Lee Dronick

Smart move, she is a very intelligent person.

Ross Edwards

As a publishing author who has used the “buy the PDF right off my web page” model AND both print and Kindle distribution, I can certainly agree with the financial rationale for this.  You stand to make far more money selling an ebook direct.  However, there are hidden hazards.  Not just mechanical issues like piracy, corrupt/failed file refund requests, and “My laptop was stolen can I PLEEEEEASE get a new DL link?” but also the loss of promotion and seamless distribution that “the channel” provides.  In fact, in “the channel,” an author is completely insulated from transactional costs and needs only produce content and choose to publish it.

Is the benefit package the channel provides worth Amazon/BN/Apple’s exhorbitant cut of revenue?  In many cases for an author, the functional answer is “yes.”  Sometimes not, though, and it appears Mrs. Rowling is willing to roll the dice that this applies to her.  I would have thought the other way around, that the greater an author’s audience is, the more that author would want to be insulated from transactional costs and just cash their checks.


So the advantage for Mrs. Rowling by selling the e-books from her own website is obvious: She gets to keep 100% of the money for each sold copy. In Apple’s iBook Store she would only get 70%.

But for this to turn out a better deal for Rowling, she?ll have to make over 70% of the gross revenue she would have made, had the Potter books been in Apple’s iBook store.

I think that’ll be very hard to achieve for any stand alone website, no matter how good it is. One should never under estimate the importance of one-click shopping to a customer base of over 200 million with credit card data already on tap.


Ross, thanks for the been-there-done-that perspective. Don’t you suppose she’ll have pro web management to handle all the devil-infested-details?

One immediate concern: her established success may undermine the potential for the main book sales. The unpublished back-stories and the games? I’ll bet they’ll find high demand. But as for the very heavy dead-tree versions, I’d like to know how they’re now selling, after all these years.

Still, come to think of it, in these digital versions, maybe those back-stories will be integrated into the main text, selectable as independent stories. And who knows what clever things may *enhance* the original stories, at least in the iPad version?pictures that move, as on the Daily Prophet?and all of a sudden I’m thinking, wow, they can do plenty of wicked cool things?features and tricks that no one would have quite imagined two years ago.

Poor text-only Kindle, though?if Rowling makes good use of the iPad’s magic, Kindle will be so?so?merely print. (translation: MORE new demand for iPads)

For those who do enjoy re-reading, say, while traveling with an iPad or Kindle, sure, this will be very convenient and desirable?depending on the pricing, as indicated in the final sentence.

I do hope she does well, for two reasons:
1. To encourage other writers to prepare well and give it a go, as you’ve done, and
2. To let Apple/Amazon/BN know they’d better keep innovating, offering something to make it worth buyers’ time and credit limits.

All this can only benefit the consumer.


She has the benefit of doing both though as well.  She can launch her own site and get 100% of the money generated from it, then a year down the line release it through the mainstream channels and get the promotion she would garner from that.  It’s a win-win really.  She creates perception that you can only get the books from her site, then can mass market it later to get any long tail buyers.

Ross Edwards

It is definitely a question in which either answer may be the right answer.

Self-sell: Maximize gross revenue, feel the direct impact of internal efficiency of costs, no publication constraints beyond the mechanical.  Also, potentially you get the money immediately upon purchase.  (This part I really like.  The PDFs I sell directly get paid to me through Paypal and I get an email.  This happens several times a day and never fails to please and motivate me.  Whereas the Amazon money shows up later and it’s like ok, whenever you’re ready…)  Promotion, management, damage control, etc, is all on you.

iBook/Kindle/Nook: Everything other than content creation is someone else’s problem.  I cannot emphasize enough what a benefit that is.  The revenue prospects in volume are still pretty good—just ask that teenaged girl who made $2.2m in 2010 selling gothic thriller novellas for $0.99 each through Kindle.  You may be waiting 30+ (Amazon DTP) to 90+ days (Nook) to get paid.

And as jamEs noted, Rowling can enjoy the front-end juice now and just do a full release through the channel later.


“Keep 100% of the money”? Aren’t we forgetting the cost of the server farm. Accounting for individual jurisdictions sales taxes… the list goes on. I’m sure there was a reason she chose “channels” to sell the hardcover books and not set up a book stand outside her house.

Paul Goodwin

If you build it, they will come. And yeah, if the content is rich, the text-only readers will be so under-satisfying. If the publisher spends even 5% of the gross on ads, you’ll see it everywhere with links to that site. They will make a ton without a huge investment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account