So says Wired about the news that J.K. Rowling will maintain complete control over the distribution of the Harry Potter ebooks:
The significance of the way in which these ebooks are being sold, meanwhile, cannot be overstated. Pottermore.com has allowed Rowling to neatly sidestep the middle man (Amazon), maintain complete control over pricing, scoop up nearly all the profits from royalties, and keep all the sales information and the further marketing opportunities that offers to herself. She will also more than likely do all of that at a price and quality that will leave her customers almost as delighted as her publishers (who remain on board) and her accountants. She’s even found a neat solution to the problem of copyright theft by using a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to an individual ebook. There will be none of the sour taste and technical glitches associated with DRM software, and no punitive lawsuits – but there will be a real inducement to actually buy the book and an added element of shame for all who steal it. Wired magazine has called this “publishing’s Radiohead moment”. But it’s more than that. It’s publishing’s new Harry Potter moment. The Hogwarts’ Express money train is riding back into town.
We’ve got mixed feelings about all this. In fairness, it’s not clear whether anyone outside Rowling’s circle knows all of the details. Presumably, DRM-free means the books will be sold in epub format? That would certainly cover most of the ereaders on the market.
Except, of course, for the Kindle. (Yes, we know books can be converted.)
EDIT: Seems as though they’ll be compatible even with the Kindle, even though Rowling is bypassing Amazon:
The books will be compatible with all ebook devices, including Amazon’s Kindle.
Lendle, of course, relies on Amazon’s lending system, so we won’t be lending any copies of the Harry Potter series. We’re not willing or interested in becoming a distribution center for pirated copies of any book, let alone the Potter books.
As for lawsuits, it seems a tad presumptuous to assume that Rowling won’t make moves to protect her IP.
Part of the point of cutting out the middle-man (and even her own long-time publishers) is that she can now exert complete control over the distribution of her content, and watermarking books with the name of the purchaser seems like a pretty obvious way to hold someone accountable, if push comes to shove.
Surely Rowling’s lawyers won’t sit idly by as these books inevitably find their way onto torrents and, if she intends to keep them at bay, why bother with the watermark? People who are going to pirate books are going to do it, and a watermark won’t stop them. (Ignoring the fact that someone will eventually figure out how to strip it out.)
While we’re on the subject, isn’t a book that is watermarked with identifying information — information which cannot be removed by the purchaser — still “crippled” with DRM?
We’ve said before that we’re not necessarily opposed to DRM — we think it could actually open up a lot of options* — but if Rowling is going to claim to trust her fans, using “shame” as a means to keep us in line feels … tacky.
As to the Radiohead reference, what of it? This will only prove, once again, that a huge player in the industry will be able to control the distribution of her own content and make a lot of money in a way that most others won’t be able to emulate, even if they want to. It worked for Radiohead, and it’ll work for Rowling, because, well, they’re Radiohead, and she’s J.K. Rowling.
Anyone who thinks this is “game changing” probably isn’t a first-time author or struggling to make a living as a writer. This changes the game for Rowling, and those who used to make a lot of money by representing her, but that’s about it.
By our estimation, that leaves about 99.9999% of the rest of the industry still waiting on the game to change.
Meanwhile, as customers, we’ll be limited to one storefront from which to purchase Harry Potter ebooks.
Does this lead to a future in which we have thousands of individualized storefronts? Who controls the consistency and the quality of the reading experience? What of Kindle owners? Does this force Amazon to (finally) support the epub format?
Rowling’s move is incredibly shrewd, there’s no doubt about that. We’re just not sure if it benefits anyone at all other than Rowling, from a “big picture” point of view. That’s fine, but we continue to wonder how far she could push the industry if she’d think beyond her own backyard.
Time will tell.
*Without DRM, Lendle wouldn’t exist. Lending, as we’ve come to know it, wouldn’t exist. DRM isn’t the problem.