Rowling in Cyber

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The world acclaimed writer and author until recently was hesitant to go cyber. She believed in the old fashioned way of reading books, page by page. However even she cannot ignore the cyber calling.

On Thursday the author released to the world that she would once again revive the saga, but not by writing a nee book, but by launching Pottermore!

(details about Pottemore go to http://arabiangazette.com/cyber-wizardry/)

The unveiling of Pottermore and its online store comes three weeks before the release of the eighth and final Harry Potter film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” also an event likely to generate huge media and fan interest.

Ms. Rowling has built the Potter franchise into a behemoth since the first of her Harry Potter novels was published in 1997. The series has sold about 450 million books world-wide, and spawned an eight-part film franchise for Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. that concludes in July, around the time of the initial Pottermore launch.

In 2010, Forbes magazine estimated Ms. Rowling’s net worth at $1 billion.

Retain rights

In a video address to readers, Ms. Rowling said she created her own Harry Potter universe for fans to visit online. While her publishers and major online book retailers will continue to sell her physical books, Ms. Rowling has reserved for herself the digital editions, the fastest-growing segment in the book world.

Until recently, reports have been speculating that the rights to sell the e-books would be worth as much as $160 million. By retaining the rights and selling them through her own platform, Rowling stands to make much more.

Five years ago, an author such as Ms. Rowling wouldn’t have had the tools to sell her own works globally by herself.

The issue of ownership of digital works has emerged as the most explosive in publishing today. Several start-up digital publishers are luring authors and estates by offering twice the royalty compensation on digital works compared with traditional publishers.

eBooks

Ebooks have become a norm in the past decade or so Rowling was hesitant int entering the ebooks domain. it was speculated that she might not as she has finished the books. However this proves that she could not ignore the calling and decide to give the whole experience.

The fact that the best selling author of the last decade is so publicly committing to the digital space in an industry that has been somewhat dragging its feet is likely to be a signigciat driver of the ebook and ebook reader industry.

“It is my view you can’t hold back progress,” Rowling said in London.

“We knew there was a big demand for ebooks, but … I wanted it to be something more than that,” the author explained.

“I wanted to pull it back to the reading, to the literary and story experience … I’ve had a lot to do with virtually every aspect of it.”

“Ebooks are here and here to stay. Later than a lot of people, I for the first time downloaded ebooks and it’s miraculous for travel and for children in particular. I feel great about taking Harry into this new medium.”

?We can guarantee that people everywhere are getting the same experience at the same time. That was extremely appealing to me. I am lucky to have the resources to do it myself and I think this is a fantastic and unique experience that I could afford to take my time over to make this come alive. There was really no way to do it for the fans or me than just do it myself. Not every author could do this, but it?s right for Harry Potter. It is so much fun to have direct content with my fans. It was an extension of the existing jkrowling.com.?

The British author said Thursday she is lucky to have the resources to go straight to readers?and is happy she can ensure they have an equally magical experience when interacting with the digital Harry Potter. “There was really no other way to do that, for the fans or for me, other than to just do it myself,” she said.

The site

The ebook store is being powered by OverDrive which powers online stores for companies such as WH Smith and lending services for libraries.

Rowling is partnering with Sony for the The Pottermore website which will be free to users and will be available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish from launch.

The ebooks will be sold exclusively through the site and will be available for all ebook readers including iBooks and Kindle. The books will reportedly be DRM-free but carry a digital watermark to help avoid piracy.

The free site allows visitors to become part of the stories by going through the Sorting Hat process, for example, or visiting Diagon Alley to buy anything from wands to potions to help them navigate the magical and “muggle” worlds.

The site only covers the first novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone,” and the remaining books will be added over time. The storyline of the second book will go live in early 2012.

Rowling said she had been working on the project for around two years.

The site opens for registration on July 31, the fictional Harry Potter’s birthday, and the first million people to register will get early access to the website and the chance to help put the final touches to the experience.

The site will open to all users in October.

Although closing the door on the Potter series, Rowling did not rule out publishing an encyclopaedia of Potter’s world.

“Will there ever be an encyclopaedia? Possibly. If ever I do a printed encyclopaedia, I would like for all the proceeds to go to charity.

Direct Relationship

Rowling?s declaration of retail independence couldn?t have come at a worse time, there is extreme turmoil in book publishing and retailing around the world.

In the year ended April 30, U.S. ebook sales jumped 163% to $313 million, according to the Association of American Publishers, but the sale of adult hard cover books declined 19% to $300 million. The figures reflect the reporting og 22 companies.

Publishers are intent on holding the line on both rates and rights. Most dramatically, they have repeatedly said they won’t sign contracts and offer advances to authors without acquiring all digital rights. But as companies such as Amazon.com Inc. increase their own publishing efforts, the traditional publishing world is coming under greater pressure to keep their authors happy.

The risk Ms. Rowling runs?the possible retaliation by retailers toward her next titles?appears limited compared to the potential financial rewards and her ability to control her relationship with her fans the way she wants. The ability to shape all forms of the book-selling and marketing experience has been a lifelong dream for many authors over the ages.

Such a step won’t be for all authors, however.

Best-selling writer James Patterson, who in 2009 signed a 17-book contract with Lagard?re SCA’s Hachette Book Group, said that while he has mulled “the notion of having my own book company,” he has decided “life is too short.”

Mr. Patterson said he thinks a certain number of authors will be eager to try more innovative forms of publishing, whether it be best-selling authors or those trying to build an audience. “Many people are going to be trying to figure out how to break into the game,” he said. “But I don’t want to do something that might be disruptive to the publishing industry. And I’m protective of independent bookstores.”

Inspiring others

The interactive element of Pottermore genuinely paves the way for other authors and creative teams to think beyond the realms of the printed page when it comes to devising e-books.

Despite the fact that the books were written years ago, it doesn?t feel like a tagged-on experience ? Rowling and the team at Think have taken great pains to ensure that the environment is visually stimulating, authentic, playful and utterly complementary to the stories.

The move could inspire other authors, large and small, to pronounce themselves independent agents in hopes of tapping more lucrative paydays. Ms. Rowling refused for years to release her books in electronic format, retaining the digital rights for herself.

While most other authors have already handed over their digital rights to their publishers?most recently, John Grisham?Ms. Rowling’s deal could prompt them to self-publish when their deals come up for renewal or demand higher royalty rates than the 25% of net sales that most publishers offer today on digital editions.

Some may even choose to forgo all traditional means of book publishing and set up their own bookstores, reaping 100% of everything they sell.

“Every writer watches with great interest whenever somebody does something new,” said best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, whose next book, “Then Came You,” goes on sale July 12. “We all pay attention. If this turns out to be a success for her, for an author who had unheard-of success by selling through traditional bookstores with books on paper, then some may decide that they, too, don’t need bricks-and-mortar stores, or online booksellers, either.”

By combining everything into a single immersive experience, rather than shopping books piecemeal to various stores, Rowling could be setting an example for other authors?but can anyone except the most-bestselling authors benefit from this approach?

Not Happy

The news did not make many happy.

The U.K?s biggest chain, Waterstone?s issued a statemtn expressing its ?disappointment? at being shut out of the digital launch and noting that it had been a ?key factor in the growth of the Harry Potter phenomenon since the first book was published.?

DRM

In a further bold move, Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform.

She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identify of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn?t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user.

This is similar to how iTunes is DRM-free, but embeds user account information within each file purchased.

The first e-book will be available at launch, in multiple languages, with others to follow in coming months.

There is no news about the e-book pricing;

Lets it won?t be more than $9.99 per e-book, and preferably less, but we?ll probably see how that goes when it gets closer to release. Experts are certainly curious how well this watermarking will survive if people use Calibre or other conversion programs to change the DRM-free e-books into the formats of they prefer.

But regardless, this is certainly a wise choice on Rowling?s part.

The Harry Potter e-books are quite possibly among the most widely-pirated e-books in the history of the Internet?just about anybody who wants a DRM-free copy already has one. Such downloaders would have little other incentive than ?supporting the author? to buy something that was more locked-down than what they could get from peer-to-peer. (And as much money as Rowling has made from Harry Potter already, many pirates might find further ?supporting? her to be a relatively weak incentive on its own.)

Not only does going DRM-free remove issues involving supporting one proprietary platform at the expense of another, or forking over a percentage of receipts to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Apple, it also throws down the gauntlet to people who (say they) only pirate books because their format of choice isn?t available. I hope such people will buy these books in support of the DRM-free decision.

Platforms

In the U.S.,Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, actively promoted Potter titles on its website on Thursday via a link to Ms. Rowling’s video announcement of the Pottermore site and said it would work to make Potter e-books available on its Nook reading device.

A spokeswoman for Amazon said, “We’re working closely with Pottermore to make sure Kindle customers will be able to buy and read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.” An Apple Inc. spokesman had no comment.

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC owns the British print rights to Harry Potter, and Scholastic Corp. owns the printrights in the U.S.

Ms. Rowling isn’t entirely pushing aside her publishers.

Bloomsbury and Scholastic both said in statements Thursday that they would receive a cut of Pottermore’s e-book sales. “chioIt is because J.K. Rowling wanted to be in a partnership with her print publishers on this project,” a Bloomsbury spokeswoman said.

Both Bloomsbury and Scholastic said they would provide marketing and promotional support for the Pottermore site.

Sony contribution

It would be interesting to see the role that Sony will play going forward in the strategic partnership, especially how it might work with Sony?s consumer electronic devices such as e-book readers and tablets

. One possible shortcoming of the project is the fact that the interactive experience is developed separately from the e-books ? but this is likely because the project was launched more than a year and a half ago, before the arrival of the first iPad.

However, because it isn?t tethered to a device, it means that it can be enjoyed by readers of the meatspace books as well as the e-books ? meaning that the potential audience is much bigger.

It will be interesting to see how the Pottermore team come up with a more seamless interactive e-book experience as opposed to the dual-platform approach.

Sony Corp. partnered with Ms. Rowling on developing the site and plans to sell branded Pottermore products, such as e-readers, out of the online store

Security

Rowling nor Sony would have anticipated the breach of security at Sony Corp. a couple of weeks ago.

This incident makes Potter fans a bit worried.

” With Pottermore you’d imagine aimed predominately at children, Rowling’s “safe” network isn’t in the most reliable hands at the moment, what with it being in partnership with Sony. Sony’s security measures over the past few months have proved to have more holes than the Leaky Cauldron. After the PlayStation 3’s PSN hack, lets up Pottermore doesn’t fall foul to Secrecy Thief Death Eaters, or “computer hackers” as they are known in the Muggle world.” Gerald Lynch, Tech Digest.

Landmark for digital publishing.

?Pottermore.com, while not perfect, represents a significant landmark for digital publishing,? claimed Olivia Solon at The Daily Telegraph, who said it represents ?a clear commitment by the biggest selling author of the last decade to embrace digital and create a truly native experience.?

?J.K. Rowling has not just hauled out her manuscript and plonked it onto a website with a bit of frilly window-dressing from a digital agency,? noted Solon. ?Instead, she has laboured for a year in close collaboration with creative developers TH_NK to curate an experience that really takes advantages of the unique properties of the web.?

?Let?s not forget the social networking element either ? creating a web platform through which avid Potter devotees can connect is inspired,? praised Solon.

?Fans already congregate through popular Harry Potter forums such as Mugglenet. So by building her own forum Rowling gains some control over her fanbase. This means that she will be able to harvest all of the demographic information, contact details and other data that would have formerly been owned by the publisher or retailer.?

Precedent for the publishing industry

Rowling?s ?digital conversion has been Damascene in its intensity,? observed Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson at The Financial Times.

?Her Pottermore project, unveiled on Thursday, is a wizarding website with a monopoly over Harry Potter audiobooks and e-books. The strength of her commitment to print and her popularity makes the move a landmark moment equivalent to The Beatles? arrival on Apple?s iTunes store last November.

Whether it sets a precedent for the publishing industry is less clear. By selling directly to readers, Ms Rowling is bypassing Amazon?s Kindle e-book store and rival digital media retailers such as iTunes ? Shahid Khan, managing partner of MAG, an advisory firm, pointed out that big-name bands such as Radiohead were managing to sell directly to consumers but few smaller acts had proved able to do so.?

All eyes are on Rowling.

Source: ebook magazine, Reuters, Wall Street Journal,? Wired UK, NW Times, Teleread, The Persicope Post, Washington Post

 

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