Questions for 2011, part deux: What price J K Rowling's digital rights?

Questions for 2011, part deux: What price J K Rowling's digital rights?

Stratospheric. Rowling, the longtime e-book refusenik, indicated last year through the Christopher Little Agency (CLA) that the time is nigh for something to finally be done with the Harry Potter digital rights.

Bloomsbury, given its razorsharp digital team, including Evan Schnittman and Stephanie Duncan and perhaps Rowling’s loyalty, must be first in line. Whenever the rights are sold—this was first mooted in May and nothing has been announced yet—it will be the biggest digital deal in publishing. Though Rowling isn’t hurting for a bob or two, having legal e-books available might put a dent in Potter piracy. Anecdotally, the HP series seems to be the most widely available and popular books on the torrent sites.

Yet will Rowling go to a publisher at all? She and CLA must have been monitoring the Ian Fleming estate’s decision to cut out Penguin and sell e-books direct. Brand Potter is certainly big enough to sell straight to consumers. Of course, this is not just vanilla e-books we are talking about—the scope for enhanced apps and trans-media deals incorporating games, films and online is immense. It is not unreasonable to think that Rowling might, à la Jamie Oliver with his 30-minute Meals app, bypass publishers altogether.

This does raise a wider issue about whether publishers can show they have the digital nous to keep digital rights for these big brands. Admittedly, there are few authors with the weight of Rowling or Fleming to go it alone. But these brands are crucial to the digital development of the trade.