News

J K Rowling to take Potter digital

E-book versions of the seven Harry Potter novels are likely to move a step closer today with the launch of an immersive website based on the Harry Potter universe. The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has reported via Twitter that the paid e-books will be released in autumn.

The full details behind Pottermore will be unveiled by author J K Rowling on YouTube and at a press conference being held later today at the Victoria and Albert Museum. According to a leaked memo, the announcement is expected to focus on the gaming elements of the new site, and the memo indicated that it wanted to "build expectations" indicating that the e-books might not be sold on launch.

What is clear, however, is that the digital content will be published under the imprint Pottermore Publishing, rather than by her print publisher Bloomsbury, which does not own the digital rights. A company called Pottermore Ltd was incorporated at Companies House in late 2009, and has recently appointed as directors Neil Blair, lawyer and Rowling's agent at Christopher Little, and Eric Hartley Senat, formerly a senior vice-president with Warner Bros, the company behind the Potter films.

It is thought that the e-book versions will be sold directly off the Pottermore site when they are released. Pottermore Publishing will have full control over when the books are released and the price point. The e-book files will be able to be read across a range of devices, including Amazon's Kindle.

The Pottermore website was launched last week after fans were guided to its name by an online street view search. The launch, which points users to a YouTube video with a countdown to Thursday 23rd June. It has led to feverish speculation about what the intentions were behind the site, though her publicist has denied that it included an eighth book.

Rowling's literary agency indicated her willingness to allow legal digital versions of the books to be sold for the first time in May last year. Blair said the agency had been “actively” looking, whereas previously it had just been “monitoring the developing area”.

Rebecca Salt, Rowling's publicist, refused to comment to The Bookseller ahead of the launch.
 

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@iuconnu
Yes - absolutely! The publishers worked extremely hard over all 7 books and then they get no credit. It can't be the case that all the people who post on the Bookseller are sour-grapes writers who couldn't get a publisher to take on their work, given the nature of the beast, so why the sneery anti-publisher stance?

It's a sad fact that many authors don't see the benefits of editorial work, as evidenced by big, powerful authors reasserting their 'original texts' years after their early works were published. Stephen King's new 'authorised' versions of The Gunslinger and The Stand, for instance, are absolutely dire and one can see exactly why the original editors cut out the waffle. Likewise, Harry Potter 7 had a rubbish deus ex machina ending, and had her publishers had the clout to make her change it, it would be a much better book. There is far too much explanatory talking in that book that interferes with the action - Snape's careful reiteration of all the salient points by Pensieve; Harry and Voldemort's discussion of Snape's loyalty, Dumbledore coming back to explain it all - all dreadful ways of getting the information across. Some authors reach a point where they are too powerful for their publishers to risk upsetting, and you can always see the quality of their writing declining without proper editorial input.

I guess it's disappointing that Bloomsbury were not more involved with this. Although they failed to acquire digital rights (nor American) the series was primarily their success. Without their clever marketing there would be no Pottermore launch today; it stands on their shoulders.

You could argue that print sales might incur some knock-on benefit from this market expansion. However, I suspect not: e-book proliferation will most likely eat into paperback sales (there was significant evidence of this phenomenon at the conference on Tuesday).

Is there a conflict of interest? Time will tell. I don't know how this has been structured. The author is an astute person and it's up to her to take a view - presumably, she's already satisfied herself on that point.

Interesting comments here - more interesting than the post itself, really.

There's certainly a legal stance on whether a publisher (i.e. their editor) has any right to monies from text that they've helped prepare - and that looks like a 'no'. Morally, however, I'm not sure. Are you going to cut the publicity people, division managers and everyone else on the credits into the monies too? They've contributed. (I'm exaggerating a little here.)

Thanks for explaining what's puzzled me for years - the early books were decently entertaining, but as the volumes progressed, they became (to me) ponderous and boring.

Yes, Bloomsbury did a lot of work, but they didn't do it for free. They WERE paid. There is no copyright on editing, so the work that was done there has been paid for.

As the article states, Bloomsbury haven't paid for the digital rights of the books, so Rowling can do what she likes with them.

Agree about the sour grapes. That chap John Locke sells a million ebooks and all the usual suspects trundle out the same old crowing nonsense about the death of publishing. Two salient facts escpae them: 1) He sells his 'books' for 60p each and 2) They are so bad, so utterly awful, that this is still too much to pay for one.

In practice, of course, it would be exceedingly rare for any publisher to assert that it is the joint owner of the copyright in an author's work by reason of having edited it. This would be so even where a publisher has genuinely made a very substantial contribution to the author's work, rendering publishable what would otherwise have been unpublishable. There may well be exceptions to that general rule, however.

Well, you say 'next to nothing', but all these books needed to be edited and packaged and marketed to become as polished and as popular as they are today. Bloomsbury's staff worked for years to help create these texts, and now they'll get nothing from the ebook edition.

I'm wondering: are edits protected by copyright? I feel if authors or agents want to use the edited versions of books prepared by publishers as the basis for a product they sell independently, they ought to pay a royalty or at least a permissions fee. (Hmm, sounds unlikely.)

I'm genuinely irritated by the apparently fairly prevalent opinion that publishers are just parasites who add no value, or that Bloomsbury deserve no credit for her success.

According to Twitter: So Pottermore is a site with new JK Rowling content free for users there'll be paid ebooks in autumn

Update:

JK Rowling has confirmed that she will release paid-for e-book versions of her incredibly successful Harry Potter books from her new website Pottermore "in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide".

Pleased to hear it!

All this talk about copyright in the editing of the Potter books is surely moot. I would have thought that one thing the Potter books could really have had is a damn good edit. Certainly as the series went on it becaome increasingly clear that no one at Bloomsbury dare edit them at all.

In deals I've heard about, publishers do very much assert copyright over the edited texts, and sometimes agents have to buy these versions off the publisher in order to proceed. The sums involved appear to be nominal, however, since they have little additional value for the publisher.

You're right. She should bung Bloomsbury 10 grand per book for their editing input. Oh, and they should give her 55% of their company because they'd be nothing without her.

Funny how people want to rubbish a publisher for doing its job well! Most publishers wouldn't be around for long if they didn't publish a bestseller or two. I think Bloomsbury has done rather well to move beyond the Potter phenomenon. It is a much bigger business now.

This is totally bizarre. As far as I can make out, this is a story about the possibility of a literary agency being involved in making a client's work available as ebooks -- and yet Philip Jones hasn't sought a commentary on the situation from the towering figure of Peter Cox, whose pronouncements he tends to find invaluable. Is Cox on holiday? Has Philip forgotten his duties?

A very important question and one which hasn't been properly addressed.

Yes.

Kindle owners can read mobi files downloaded from anywhere. Smashwords sells them for starters.

Good point. Though I'm not sure anyone ever thought J K Rowling wouldn't do it this way. If indeed she announces such a move today. The Potter brand is different to almost anything else in publishing, and I suspect Pottermore will be about lots of things other than the books today. I could point you to Agent Orange's view if you want to get an agents' perspective though: http://futurebook.net/content/scarred-life

Via OverDrive, which recently went into a partnership deal with Amazon over e-book lending. Coincidence?

"The e-book files will be able to be read across a range of devices, including Amazon's Kindle."

Mmmm. How so if they are not being sold via Amazon? Or am I missing something?

Well, you say 'next to nothing', but all these books needed to be edited and packaged and marketed to become as polished and as popular as they are today. Bloomsbury's staff worked for years to help create these texts, and now they'll get nothing from the ebook edition.

I'm wondering: are edits protected by copyright? I feel if authors or agents want to use the edited versions of books prepared by publishers as the basis for a product they sell independently, they ought to pay a royalty or at least a permissions fee. (Hmm, sounds unlikely.)

I'm genuinely irritated by the apparently fairly prevalent opinion that publishers are just parasites who add no value, or that Bloomsbury deserve no credit for her success.

A very important question and one which hasn't been properly addressed.

You're right. She should bung Bloomsbury 10 grand per book for their editing input. Oh, and they should give her 55% of their company because they'd be nothing without her.

Funny how people want to rubbish a publisher for doing its job well! Most publishers wouldn't be around for long if they didn't publish a bestseller or two. I think Bloomsbury has done rather well to move beyond the Potter phenomenon. It is a much bigger business now.

This is totally bizarre. As far as I can make out, this is a story about the possibility of a literary agency being involved in making a client's work available as ebooks -- and yet Philip Jones hasn't sought a commentary on the situation from the towering figure of Peter Cox, whose pronouncements he tends to find invaluable. Is Cox on holiday? Has Philip forgotten his duties?

Good point. Though I'm not sure anyone ever thought J K Rowling wouldn't do it this way. If indeed she announces such a move today. The Potter brand is different to almost anything else in publishing, and I suspect Pottermore will be about lots of things other than the books today. I could point you to Agent Orange's view if you want to get an agents' perspective though: http://futurebook.net/content/scarred-life

@iuconnu
Yes - absolutely! The publishers worked extremely hard over all 7 books and then they get no credit. It can't be the case that all the people who post on the Bookseller are sour-grapes writers who couldn't get a publisher to take on their work, given the nature of the beast, so why the sneery anti-publisher stance?

It's a sad fact that many authors don't see the benefits of editorial work, as evidenced by big, powerful authors reasserting their 'original texts' years after their early works were published. Stephen King's new 'authorised' versions of The Gunslinger and The Stand, for instance, are absolutely dire and one can see exactly why the original editors cut out the waffle. Likewise, Harry Potter 7 had a rubbish deus ex machina ending, and had her publishers had the clout to make her change it, it would be a much better book. There is far too much explanatory talking in that book that interferes with the action - Snape's careful reiteration of all the salient points by Pensieve; Harry and Voldemort's discussion of Snape's loyalty, Dumbledore coming back to explain it all - all dreadful ways of getting the information across. Some authors reach a point where they are too powerful for their publishers to risk upsetting, and you can always see the quality of their writing declining without proper editorial input.

Agree about the sour grapes. That chap John Locke sells a million ebooks and all the usual suspects trundle out the same old crowing nonsense about the death of publishing. Two salient facts escpae them: 1) He sells his 'books' for 60p each and 2) They are so bad, so utterly awful, that this is still too much to pay for one.

Yes, Bloomsbury did a lot of work, but they didn't do it for free. They WERE paid. There is no copyright on editing, so the work that was done there has been paid for.

As the article states, Bloomsbury haven't paid for the digital rights of the books, so Rowling can do what she likes with them.

According to Twitter: So Pottermore is a site with new JK Rowling content free for users there'll be paid ebooks in autumn

In practice, of course, it would be exceedingly rare for any publisher to assert that it is the joint owner of the copyright in an author's work by reason of having edited it. This would be so even where a publisher has genuinely made a very substantial contribution to the author's work, rendering publishable what would otherwise have been unpublishable. There may well be exceptions to that general rule, however.

In deals I've heard about, publishers do very much assert copyright over the edited texts, and sometimes agents have to buy these versions off the publisher in order to proceed. The sums involved appear to be nominal, however, since they have little additional value for the publisher.

All this talk about copyright in the editing of the Potter books is surely moot. I would have thought that one thing the Potter books could really have had is a damn good edit. Certainly as the series went on it becaome increasingly clear that no one at Bloomsbury dare edit them at all.

Thanks for explaining what's puzzled me for years - the early books were decently entertaining, but as the volumes progressed, they became (to me) ponderous and boring.

I guess it's disappointing that Bloomsbury were not more involved with this. Although they failed to acquire digital rights (nor American) the series was primarily their success. Without their clever marketing there would be no Pottermore launch today; it stands on their shoulders.

You could argue that print sales might incur some knock-on benefit from this market expansion. However, I suspect not: e-book proliferation will most likely eat into paperback sales (there was significant evidence of this phenomenon at the conference on Tuesday).

Is there a conflict of interest? Time will tell. I don't know how this has been structured. The author is an astute person and it's up to her to take a view - presumably, she's already satisfied herself on that point.

Update:

JK Rowling has confirmed that she will release paid-for e-book versions of her incredibly successful Harry Potter books from her new website Pottermore "in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide".

Pleased to hear it!

"The e-book files will be able to be read across a range of devices, including Amazon's Kindle."

Mmmm. How so if they are not being sold via Amazon? Or am I missing something?

Yes.

Kindle owners can read mobi files downloaded from anywhere. Smashwords sells them for starters.

Via OverDrive, which recently went into a partnership deal with Amazon over e-book lending. Coincidence?

Interesting comments here - more interesting than the post itself, really.

There's certainly a legal stance on whether a publisher (i.e. their editor) has any right to monies from text that they've helped prepare - and that looks like a 'no'. Morally, however, I'm not sure. Are you going to cut the publicity people, division managers and everyone else on the credits into the monies too? They've contributed. (I'm exaggerating a little here.)

First, LOTS of authors did not sell their digital rights to publishers, especially those whose books came out when digital publishing was a new thing. MANY of those authors are publishing the digital versions of their books on their own.

Second, Bloomsbury did a great job marketing the books. So too did all the other publishers who produced the Harry Potter books. the editing is not something that is owned by the publisher and anyone who has ever gone through the editorial process with a publisher would know that it's a process that remains 90% in the authors hands. Changes are suggested, not made.

Third, The covers are copyrighted, which is why every foreign market has a different cover. So I suspect you'll find that the books JKR releases will have new covers. That, or she'll purchase the covers from the publisher/artist.

I think this is a great thing that JKR is doing. Good for her. These are her books, she wrote them. Ultimately her writing and storytelling is what made her books a success. I hope she makes an absolute mint!