More like Pottermore, Please…

So Pottermore has now started selling Harry Potter ebooks.

Maybe it’s my mood today; maybe it’s the bees that are still trying to make honey on the side of the house; maybe it’s being away from the computer for a few days…

Whatever it is, I’m probably going to come across as a little cranky.

Harry Potter ebooks? Big whoopteedoo. Or however you’re supposed to spell that.

Back in my sketchy past, when I had a much more hardline stance on piracy of all forms (well, except for maritime piracy), I would download stuff to my heart’s content. I had an external harddrive with 100 gigabytes of movies, music, and random junk, culled from bit torrent sites, and I knew my way around DRM, let me tell you.


Well, I’m much more mellow these days, and even though my opinions about piracy have softened (or hardened, depending on your perspective I guess), I refuse to get that excited about the Pottermore-ebook-release.

I saw the ebook for The Deathly Hallows about two hours after it was released in print form. People just don’t give a shit; they’re gonna copy and make and share.

But Mike Shatzkin had an interesting post where he talked about the potentially seismic changes in the business structure where Pottermore was able to have Amazon send people to its external site to purchase ebooks for the Kindle. Now what’s interesting here is not that Pottermore is going to do anything necessarily different from what other companies have wanted to do (get customer data, drive sales, make people register and possibly participate in a gated social community), but that they’ve succeeded in making Amazon defer.

Well no shit. Amazon is a big company, and they didn’t get that way by making stupid decisions. “This is, by far, the biggest concession that has been wrested from Amazon since John Sargent faced them down over the buy buttons on Macmillan print books,” Shatzkin says, and I agree. However, they didn’t do this in order to make less money. They did this because they are dealing with an intellectual property the size of Jupiter. Pottermore doesn’t live by any rules that the rest of us live by.

And there is the problem. Or solution.

While on the one hand I’d like to cheer for the little guy who usurped Amazon’s power, I have to remember that J.K. is the world’s richest author, and chances are that rules don’t apply to billionaire authors, and she’s definitely not to be confused with “the little guy.”

So yeah, removing DRM, driving business to your own site, and collecting vast amounts of reader data is the dream. Pottermore is doing the dream. Amazon is still going to make money off of it. And yup, pirates will be pirates.

What does that mean for the rest of us?

Cynically speaking, not much… This could potentially be a precedent for future power struggles, but publishers are going to need a high-profile intellectual property to really drive the business out of Amazon. Authors are still going to get screwed out of royalties, and readers are still going to pay too much for books.

Who knows… Maybe The Hunger Games is going to be able to step up to the plate…


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