By now you’ve probably heard the rumours of the elusive Pottermore project, which some people thought was going to be a Harry Potter MMO, but it turned out to be an online reading experience and the location from which Rowling will sell DRM-free ebooks, a complete turnaround from her original views about her beloved boy wizard entering the digital world.

What’s interesting about this is that Rowling has decided to go it alone instead of using a publisher to make the ebooks for her. Not only does this give her greater control over how they are presented, it gives her a much bigger share of the profits, not that she necessarily needs it at this stage. An ebook deal could have secured her £100 million, but she’s likely to make even more than that through Pottermore.

If this was not evidence enough of how big the ebook game is, I don’t know what is. When Harry Potter was originally released in 1997 ebooks barely existed and they were certainly not in the form we know them today. The first ebook readers didn’t arrive until a year later, but it was only from 2006 onwards, with the release of the Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple iPad that ebooks really became a tangible phenomenon.

It could be argued that it’s really only in the last year or two that the industry has copped on to how big ebooks really are, and that largely boils down to the success of the smartphone and tablet markets, with Apple and Google leading the roost. These devices are everywhere now, much more so than dedicated ebook readers, and they often do the job just as well, opening up the world of ebooks to the masses.

The original reason for Rowling’s reluctance to launch ebook versions of the Harry Potter series was the threat of piracy, yet her refusal to sell authorised digital versions led to a huge black market of unauthorised editions. Fans were simply hungry for some Hogwarts antics in ebook form. Thankfully for them Rowling has since seen sense, and since the new versions will be DRM-free (that is, they won’t have copyright protection technology in place), they can be read on any device. This makes them considerably easier to copy and illegally distribute, but there will be a digital watermark in place that identifies the original buyer, so they could face prosecution if they choose to share their copy with others online.

While piracy of digital works is a valid threat, DRM techniques often make it painfully difficult for a reader to enjoy a book on a device that was not originally authorised. Amazon locks its Kindle ebooks to the Kindle device (or Kindle reader on their PC), meaning readers need to buy a separate version for their tablet computer, which is like forcing a reader to buy one paperback to read in the living room and another to read in the bedroom. One solution is for ebook stores to offer all formats for a single purchase, but that’s unlikely to happen when companies are attempting to claim a monopoly on the ebook industry.

For more on the Pottermore project, check out my coverage at The Inquirer.

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