The Harry Potter e-books will go on sale exclusively from the Pottermore website from midday today (27th March). It is the first time author J K Rowling has allowed e-book versions of the seven titles to be released, and the move marks the beginning of the roll-out of the Pottermore experience, a virtual world based on the author's fictional creations originally announced last June.
Charlie Redmayne, who joined Pottermore as chief executive late last year from HarperCollins, told The Bookseller that the launch of the e-books was a "great day" for the brand, adding that it would grow interest in the titles both in print and digital and undermine the lively market for pirated digital editions of the seven titles. Redmayne also revealed that Pottermore was planning enhanced editions of the bestselling series, and confirmed that it would operate an affiliates scheme for retailers.
The seven books are being released simultaneously from shop.pottermore.com, at two price points. The first three titles will be sold at £4.99 with the later four books priced at £6.99. The digital audio files, featuring the Stephen Fry narration, are also being made available exclusively from Pottermore priced at £17.99 for the first three books, and £32.99 for the end four. In the US the equivalent prices for the e-books are $7.99 and $9.99, with the audiobooks, read by actor Jim Dale, priced at $29.99 and $44.99.
Redmayne said he was expecting considerable interest in the e-books. "You have to take into consideration that there will be a lot of pent-up demand, people who have wanted to buy Harry Potter e-books but haven't been able to. There will also be a lot of people who want to buy the whole series." But he said the business was not trying to "out do" booksellers. "We have set a fair price, lower than physical, but we don't want to cannibalise the print products," he said.
The e-books will feature on retailer websites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but can only be bought from Pottermore. Readers will then be able to securely "push" the digital books to up to eight devices concurrently, including the Sony Reader, Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, or receive an ePub version. But the titles will not be available through Apple's iBookstore after Pottermore and Apple failed to reach agreement ahead of the launch. It is believed to be the first time Amazon and Barnes & Noble have allowed an e-book sold on a third-party retail site to be downloaded onto a Kindle or Nook device.
Redmayne described the deals with Sony, Google, Amazon and Barnes & Noble as "groundbreaking". He said: "This is the first time Amazon and B&N have driven customers off their platform to another site, and then given the ability to push that content back to their device." Redmayne would not be drawn on what the retailers would earn from this deal, but said "clearly they should earn out of it in the same way we should".
The e-books will carry a watermark so that each edition is personalised, enabling tracking for the DRM-free versions. Initially only the English and US versions will be available, with French, Italian, German and Spanish editions to follow in the coming weeks, and further languages coming later.
The e-books are not yet available from W H Smith, Kobo or Waterstones—though the ePub file can be sideloaded onto any e-book reader. Redmayne said other retail partners would come on stream as soon as the Pottermore team could work on the deals, but would not be drawn on when the titles would be made available through the Apple iBookstore, which would mean Pottermore signing an agency agreement. He said: "In the future we will be working with others. We are launching as we are purely because of the limitations of the team. We hope to be working with all partners going forwards, including introducing an affiliates scheme."
The e-books will also simultaneously be made available through OverDrive for library users in the US and UK. Libraries will be able to loan each e-book edition as many times as there is demand, but the license will only last for five years, after which libraries will need to purchase a new edition.
There is no date yet for the full launch of the virtual world Pottermore: the official line remains that it will follow soon after in "early April". Redmayne said the Pottermore experience website was ready to go, adding that the company wanted to launch the two sites separately but "close together" in order to manage the expected levels of traffic. "I am thinking what I think it is going to be, and then I am doubling that to make sure we have the capacity."
The roll-out is slightly ahead of what was widely expected, after the original launch was delayed from October 2011. In March the Pottermore Insider blog blamed the delay on switching the site to "an entirely different platform". Redmayne confirmed that he had to overhaul the infrastructure following the launch of the the beta site, and wanted to bring in his own development team, headed by chief technology officer Julian Thomas—the company now employs 20 full-time staff. Redmayne also brought in the Javelin Group to develop its e-commerce platform, replacing OverDrive.