Harry Potter went on sale in ebook format for the first time on Tuesday as the author J.K. Rowling underlined her publishing clout by opening an exclusive online store that prevents retailers from selling the titles directly.
The long-awaited launch of the seven ebooks came nine months after Ms Rowling announced plans to create the Pottermore store, which enables the titles to be read on multiple platforms but requires more purchase steps than a typical online store.
As ebooks shift the balance of power between publishers, authors and retailers, Ms Rowling’s strategy has highlighted the enhanced sway of the best-selling authors.
Pottermore has struck deals that will enable Amazon and Barnes & Noble to display the ebooks on their websites, but they can only be bought from Pottermore, which will “push” them down to devices including Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
It is the first time Amazon has ceded such ground to a rival retail outlet.
Benedict Evans at Enders Analysis said: “It’s the first attempt by a major author to bypass Kindle and iBooks entirely and sell directly to the consumer. You have a lot of people seeking to bypass the publisher, but no one bypasses the platform.”
In addition to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Pottermore has set up partnerships that enable users of the Google Play and the Sony Reader systems to link their accounts to the Pottermore store.
Pottermore has not announced a similar deal with Apple’s iBookstore. But the ebooks will be readable on Apple’s system, albeit via a more complicated route, because they are published in the ePub open book format. Buyers will be allowed to download an ebook to as many as eight devices.
“It has the incremental benefit that you can pass a book around the family and have one person read it on an iPad and another on a Kindle,” said Mr Evans.
But the Pottermore site and the purchase process were “a very long way away from a best-in-class consumer internet experience”, he said.
“It is inherently more fiddly to buy something from a website then load it on to a Kindle than it is to buy it direct from Amazon. But they haven’t addressed that successfully.”
The first three titles in the Harry Potter series are being sold as ebooks for $7.99 each while the final four books are $9.99 each.
Authors typically sell digital and print rights together, but Ms Rowling’s publishing power is such that she held back her ebook rights from her publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic.
The ebooks are initially available only in English but Pottermore said French, Italian, German and Spanish versions were “coming soon”.
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