It’s quite amazing that for the first time since the Harry Potter series began, in 1997, official e-book versions of all seven titles in the series are now available. Far more amazing however is where and how these e-books are being sold.
For the first time in the history of digital publishing a major author has forced the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble to operate on their terms. These and other retailers are referring readers to the Pottermore shop (the online business created to sell the e-books), rather than selling the e-books directly.
The customer can discover the Harry Potter e-books via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major e-book retailers and is then re-directed to Pottermore to complete the purchasing of the e-book which can still be read on the customer’s device of choice (including the Kindle). It’s the first time Amazon has allowed a 3rd party to own the customer relationship, while still allowing the e-book to be delivered to its device.
Mike Shatzkin – whose blog everyone interested in digital publishing should be following - has commented on how important Rowling and Pottermore's move is.
As he points out, Pottermore's key strategic innovation is to drop the anti-piracy "hammerlock" that is Adobe DRM, in favour of the softer anti-piracy mechanism of adding a unique "watermark" to each e-book sold. Pirated books can then be traced back to their source. This won't stop piracy, but it will discourage it, read more on the watermark in this Future Book website article.
Without DRM, the books can be sold on to any device, including Amazon's Kindle. Pottermore, then, has turned the Kindle into its own distribution system. Notably, Apple has so far not signed on. (Which doesn't mean you can't put the e-books on to your iPad; just that Apple won't refer you to them.
Is this a step in the right direction for digital publishing? On the one hand it is good to see Amazon having to step down occasionally, on the other do e-book customers really want to get re-directed to a myriad of niche website to buy their e-books? Let’s see what happens, maybe the Twilight franchise will be next!