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The £100m Harry Potter Ebook rights and the forthcoming Kindle/iPad ‘revolution’

I’m off to the London Book Fair tomorrow. Ebooks is big business nowadays, especially with the 800lb Amazon Gorilla stomping about the mobile industry. Indeed, the emerging idea of Amazon competing heavily or directly with iTunes has been getting quite a lot of people excited over the past few months.

As I was browsing the LBF site today I came across this news post regarding Harry Potter. Apparently, JK Rowling is ‘actively considering’ bringing the Harry Potter franchise to Ebook format.

I had to roll my eyes.

Actively considering?

How backward.

I read on.

The post’s author Fiona Kellagher reports:

JK Rowling had, until recently, been unforthcoming about the transferring of her books about the teenage wizard from the physical realm to that of ebooks. She said the main reason for this reticence was the fear that the novels would be easily pirated.

By all means if you’re considering publishing in some mickey-mouse PDF format. But on Amazon? Come on? I’m no piracy expert but surely they’ve sorted-all-that-jazz out by now, given that almost every other author I can think of has gone ‘e’?

Fiona then quotes Liz Thompson of Book Brunch thus:

“I wouldn’t be too surprised if the rights for the ebooks are sold for £100 million,” she said. “Experts believe the move could revolutionise the world of electronic publishing, triggering rocketing sales of ebook readers such as the Kindle and the iPad.”

I agree with this statement. I think it’ll be excellent for the mobile industry.

But goodness me, the book publishing business is really, really screwed isn’t it?

£100m? For the eBook rights?

Fair enough for the business people concerned, but what about the lowly consumer, getting ready for a right-royal-rogering? We bought a whole set of Harry Potter books for baby Archie before he was born. A whole set. Lotsa cash.

The publisher and the author will no doubt be clear that my wife and I bought some physical products.

As far as I am concerned I bought access to content.

I didn’t expressly expect eBook rights with the physical purchase.

However I’m going to be deeply, DEEPLY, DEEPLY unimpressed if the publisher decides to set the price of the eBook at a ridiculous level. £12 each? Ridiculous. The problem with Harry Potter is that it’s likely to garner significant ‘end consumer’ attention — and it’s those consumers who come into the EBook market that won’t react very well to being stiffed ‘again’.

It would be very exciting if each book’s price was set to £0.59 each.

Or £0.99. £2.99 would work too. I think so many people would just click ‘buy’ so they’ve got’em in the electronic library, just in case.

Buuuut that’ll never happen, will it? Far too many parties will want a decent percentage.

And just to throw the cat in amongst the pigeons, what would happen if JK decided to self publish? 😉


  1. a) It’s trivially easy to remove the DRM from eBooks. Yes, even Amazon’s ebooks. DRM doesn’t work – everyone knows that*.
    b) Type “Harry Potter ebook” into Alta-Vista**. The books are already out there. Anyone who wants a copy can download one for free***
    c) I in no way condone copyright infringement**** – but look at what happened when the music industry didn’t adapt – then look at the movie industry. Now ask yourself why book publishers think they’re any different.

    *Apart from those idiots who buy DRM solutions time after time…
    **Other search engines may be available.
    ***Legal fees not withstanding
    ****In public, any way…

  2. Ah thanks for updating me on that Terence, I thought (or, was that hoped?)
    it was at least… I dunno… semi difficult to crack!

    I think you’re absolutely right about piracy. Make it easier and better to
    buy and the huge majority of folk will do that instead.

  3. JK would never self-publish. She’s sold out to the publishing “industry” too long ago to be anything near independent agent. Plus, the way she wrote the books after the second one was so much along the lines of you-gotta-wait-for-the-sequel-to-figure-this-one-out that I doubt she’s interested in anything other than ripping off her readers, or rather their parents. Because of that I’ve ignored her, and her work ever since the third sequel filled be with the above sentiment. No wonder she (or rather her handlers) now wants 100 million for a few books that already made much more than that.


  4. I get your point Vlad. This was a comment much discussed at last week’s
    MIPTV (in the context of TV rights). But I remember getting on to the
    discussion of books with one executive who pointed out that most authors
    actually *need* their publisher to manage the marketing and editing and
    would be utterly lost without their guidance. Thoughts?

  5. Case in point, mobile apps: much easier to click “Buy” when the price is in the free to 0.99 to 2.99 to even 4.99 range (insert your own currency symbol). And I’ve recently had to shell out £15.99 for an e-book even though the dead-tree version was same or less. But I have started valuing my failing eye-sight so I am a sitting duck for e-book peddlers. 🙁

  6. It’s mathematically impossible to produce uncrackable DRM. You’re giving a consumer a lock and a key and expecting them only to use the key when you say so. It’s the height of foolishness.

    As for Copyright Infringement* – I go along with Neil Gaiman when he says “Obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy.”

    *If they ain’t in boat, they ain’t pirates

  7. Great topic! I have a Kindle and very excitedly went to buy my first eBook the other day. I was less excited to find that the eBook cost about £1 more than the physical book!


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