J.K. Rowling’s “Pottermore”: A Digital Rights Game-Changer?
Book stores and online retailers can only watch from the sidelines as “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling prepares to launch “Pottermore,” an online Harry Potter universe that the site describes as “an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books.” According to Rowling and media sources, the site will include chat forums, previously unreleased content and information about the world of Harry Potter and, most importantly, serve as the exclusive source of Harry Potter audio books and e-books.
Because Rowling first negotiated her publishing deal in the early 1990s–well before the appearance of digital books–her publishing company, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., only acquired the print rights to the Harry Potter books; Rowling maintained all the digital rights to the works. Thanks to her complete and independent ownership of the digital rights, Rowling is able to control the creation and distribution of any digital Harry Potter material—and it will pay off big for the author. Rather than having to share revenues from sales of the audio books and e-books with the publisher or for an online retailer to distribute the electronic works, Rowling stands to reap 100% of profits (although the author voluntarily agreed to share a certain percent of the profits with Bloomsbury). Since e-books and other forms of digital publishing have emerged, publishing companies almost always acquire the digital rights in addition to the print rights when signing new authors.
Online e-book retailers like Amazon and Apple are certainly furious that they will be missing out on a slice of the Harry Potter e-book pie and brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble will take yet another hit to sales of paper copies of the books. However, spokesmen for Amazon and Barnes and Noble have stated that they will work with Pottermore to ensure the e-books will be available on the Kindle and Nook respectively.
Many (including myself) wonder if the Pottermore approach will catch on with more authors going forward. Many big-name authors could choose to let their publishing deals lapse and self-publish electronic copies of their works through their own websites. New authors could forego publishing companies altogether and use their own websites to self-publish and distribute their works. It will be interesting to see what the response is within the community of best-selling authors and publishers going forward and how the landscape of digital rights ownership and the distribution of written works will continue to change.