Well, at least for her. Today, JK Rowling finally joined the eBook party on her own Pottermore website. As I write about at the Parentonomics blog at Forbes.com today, the pricing and versioning issues are kind of mysterious. But here I want to concentrate on what all this means for eBook publishing.

First, some facts. (i) You can only purchase Harry Potter books from Pottermore. Go to Amazon — and they seem to be pleased they are available — and you are directed to the Pottermore site. You then go through a process of linking your Amazon account but then can download the book straight on to your device.

(ii) You purchase once and you can get the book on any device. And I mean any. Kindle, iPad (through iBooks), Google Play (whatever that is) and Sony who appear to have provided the technical grunt to get this working. There is no other major book that is available this way. Actually, probably no other paid book available this way.

(iii) What about DRM? That is hard to parse. Here is what I know. I downloaded the book on a Kindle. I then downloaded another copy direct to my computer (in ePub format) and it appears that with that version I can put it on as many readers as I like. The site says I am limited to 8 downloads but once I have that ePub version there does not seem to be any limits.

So what does this mean? The whole concern over eBooks was potential device lock-in. We are worried about being tied to Amazon or Apple or what have you forever. This same thing is preventing entry or inroads by others such as Sony. The Rowling initiative breaks through all of that. It is device independent for the first time in this industry. One can only imagine the negotiations that occurred that allowed that to be possible — particularly with Amazon. Also, I can’t imagine that Amazon or Apple are getting their 30% cuts in this deal but let’s wait and see on that.

The point is that once one author — no matter how powerful — can prove all this possible, there is the potential for floodgates to be opened. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

24 Responses to JK Rowling blows up the eBookstore business

  1. Brett says:

    I’m waiting until Pottermore opens up entirely in April before buying the books. I’ve heard it’s got some good stuff to go with them.

  2. MacCruiskeen says:

    The Pottermore web site says that the books are offered in ePub and Kindle format. Most of the readers will read the ePub format. ePub is an open format that anyone can use. Many (perhaps now, most) ebooks are offered in both ePub and Kindle format; Rowling has done nothing new here. (iBooks 3 has gone off the reservation, adding proprietary code to the ePub 3 standard.) She’s just sufficiently popular that she can afford to sell exclusively through her own website.

    The entire premise of your article is wrong.

  3. Joshua Gans says:

    @MacCruiskeen Can you please point to a book that can be read on the Kindle and in ePub format with a single purchase?

    • Tom says:

      “You purchase once and you can get the book on any device. And I mean any. […] There is no other major book that is available this way. Actually, probably no other paid book available this way.”

      Nonsense. The entire Black Library catalog (sci-fi and fantasy novels, several of which have made the NYT best sellers list) have been available in DRM-free MOBI and EPUB direct from their web site since mid-2010. They’ve been available DRM-free through the iBookstore for the same period.

      The only thing new here is Amazon allowing listings and a greater degree of integration with Kindle without handling the sales themselves, and I can’t see any indication that they’re making it available to anyone else. One of the all-time best-selling children’s franchises having the power to make it happen doesn’t mean anyone else does.

    • Lukas says:

      This is true of any book that is offered in both mobi and epub formats (i.e. pretty much all DRM-free e-books).

      For example, the whole Pragmatic Programmers library is available that way, and many other authors and publishers offer this, as well. It’s awesome that Rowling is doing it this way, but it’s indeed true that the premise of your article is slightly misguided.

      The only thing that seems to be new is that you automatically get the book on your Kindle, rather than having to put it there yourself (if this is true – I haven’t tested it myself).

  4. MacCruiskeen says:

    Off the top of my head, the entire O’Reilly catalog is offered that way. And they don’t even make you go through Amazon to get the Kindle version. In fact, O’Reilly offers more format choices than Pottermore, DRM-free with updates.

    • Joshua Gans says:

      I could not find a single book of theirs available on the Kindle. And I mean Kindle proper not just some PDF. There is a big difference.

      • Dustin says:

        Sitepoint has been doing this for over a year: http://www.sitepoint.com/books/cssant4/ Available in MOBI(kindle) and ePUB.

        Proper kindle format. O’Reilly does the same thing.

        • Joshua Gans says:

          I looked at that and it is not available on the Kindle store.

          • Dustin says:

            Was a particular example. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=sitepoint&x=0&y=0

            If you buy it through amazon and not their website(like Potermore) you only get the kindle version. However if you buy it form their website you get the same flexibility as you do through potermore. Admittedly the third party API connect is a nice addition that potermore has added. It however is not a new invention, as the ability to do that with the amazon API has existed previously.

            However, because it’s the Harry Potter series, Amazon has motivation to advertise the books on their front page. It’s been a big downside to eBooks not being able to get the Harry Potter series. And probably one of the most requested books in kindle format. (pure speculation)

          • MacCruiskeen says:

            “available on Kindle store” and “available in Kindle format” are not the same thing. You can get Kindle format books without going to Kindle store.

          • Joshua Gans says:

            Perhaps but I think it is a big deal for most consumers who purchase through stores for convenience. In the Pottermore situation, it gets sent straight to your Kindle and then also effectively straight to iBooks.

        • MacCruiskeen says:

          Whatever you say, grandpa. You asked for examples of books available in multiple formats with a single download, you got said examples. If you change the title of your piece to “Rowling makes things slightly inconvenient for people who can’t figure out how to get books other than at Kindle store” then we’ll leave you alone. If you really think “Kindle store” is equal to “ebookstore business” then you should give up this blog.

    • Joshua Gans says:

      Actually, it looks like there is a Kindle store problem at the moment (I wonder why). Anyhow I would venture if you bought any of these titles there you would not be able to download the ePub file as well.

      This is what has changed.

  5. Kwanghui lim says:

    Joshua, here is a recently published book available in PDF, kindle , ePub formats on any device.
    I think you are right that the market is headed that way. It happened with mp3 music so why not books?

    http://www.lightroomqueen.com/books/adobe-lightroom-4-missing-faq/

    • Joshua Gans says:

      But not if you buy direct from Amazon. The Rowling thing is significant because Amazon pushes you to her site.

      Also, notice all these cross-platform examples are all technical manuals presuming a certain sort of reader.

      • MacCruiskeen says:

        Again, this is not what is implied by your headline. You say “blows up the ebookstore business.” That suggests you mean the whole ebook business, not just Amazon/Kindle. If you really mean only Amazon/Kindle, then say so. If you mean “for a certain segment of consumers buying commercial genre fiction and not more sophisticated books,” then say so. You started out with some grand pronouncements, and when it was pointed out that this was in reality less than grand, in that others have already done these things, you basically retreated into caveats and limitations.

        The only thing that makes this noteworthy is that Rowling is sufficiently popular that she no longer needs the traditional apparatus of publishing to drive customers to her website to buy her books.

  6. There’s Ganxy.com. See, for example, Mark Cuban’s book published through Diversion Books: http://www.diversionbooks.com/ebooks/how-win-sport-business-if-i-can-do-it-you-can-do-it. Purchase once using PayPal, Amazon, credit card etc, download in any of the common formats to all your devices.

  7. Simon says:

    http://www.baenebooks.com/ sells drm free ebooks in all major and some minor formats (and they’re not technical manuals either) with what appears to be unlimited downloads (I’ve download epub and mobi versions of the same book with the same purchase).

    I hope this selling of drm free ebooks becomes the norm… At the moment my process for buying an ebook goes something like this:
    1. I find the cheapest Adobe DRMed epub I can at http://inkmesh.com
    2. Buy it, download the little authentication file and open it in Adobe Digital Editions (or the Sony Reader software, essentially the same thing) which then downloads the DRMed epub.
    3. Use the DeDRM tools from https://apprenticealf.wordpress.com/ to strip the DRM and give me a plain epub which I can upload to somewhere like Dropbox or whatever.
    4. Put the plain epub on my Sony ebook reader or phone or wherever I need it (optionally use calibre to convert it to mobi to use on a Kindle but I don’t have one any more).

    This process sucks… hard. But if I want to actually ‘own’ my ebooks and not have some sort of limited use licence to them, then it’s necessary.

    PS Google Play is the rebranded Android Market + Google Book store + Google Music store + Google Video store (I think, I can’t access videos from Aus).

  8. Jason says:

    Ok I know that JK Rowling is a big deal but O’Reilly has been providing multiple ebook formats for a couple of years now. You can buy books on Amazon/B&N/iBooks (I think) and then register them with O’Reilly to have updated books, not new editions, just errata updates from time to time. This isn’t new but for Rowling did do, selling her books in her own store is a big deal. Unfortunately, you only have 8 downloads and with O’Reilly you have unlimited downloads. What if there is a typo? Will the books be updated and the # of downloads not affected?

  9. […] Kindle format that is involves DRM and that has enlisted major publishers behind it. But there are some big exceptions and some others including TOR books and O’Reilly media who have moved to an all DRM free […]

  10. world hunger says:

    you are all ridiculous for arguing over somthing so insignificant.

  11. Kari Eastman says:

    Couldn’t wait to try to buy a REAL EPUB in this fashion. Bought a book just to watch it go.
    KUDOS to Rowling. I hope she opens another site to serve authors that have been selling themselves (in so many ways) to Amazon,

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