Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A 9.0 on the Rowling Scale

Matthew Yglesias at Slate.com is rightly excited that author J.K. Rowling has bypassed Amazon and Apple by distributing ebook copies of her Harry Potter books via her Pottermore web site, rather than parceling these things out through various formats fit for various ereaders tailored for various companies.

Even better – Rowling’s publishers are allowing her to offer her books for multiple devices for one purchase price. According to the device FAQ, if you purchase, for example, the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ebook, you can download it “for personal use” up to eight times – spreading it out over eight devices if you so choose.

But part of me wonders at his excitement. Certainly J.K. Rowling has the following to do this kind of thing, and the marketing clout behind her name to make it work. For the vast majority of authors? Not so much.

Joshua Gans, writing for Digitopoly on the same subject, nails the toned-down excitement perfectly with his opening words: “JK Rowling blows up the eBookstore Business. Well, at least for her.”

He’s cautiously optimistic, however, as he closes:

The point is that once one author — no matter how powerful — can prove all this possible, there is the potential for floodgates to be opened. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
Gans says there’s no telling right now whether Amazon or Apple are getting any cut of the proceeds from these book sales, though they can be uploaded to these devices via linking, for example, an Amazon.com account to the Pottermore Download Machine of eBookstore Liberation. Apple, in the past, has strictly forbidden such leaping and nose-thumbing of its own profit structure, so it’s not likely that either company are going to sit idly by directing customers to the Pottermore site without diving into the cornucopia of quatloos changing hands.

Therein lies the rub. Rowling can do this – and by this I mean striking some back-door deal with the big boys while making it appear there’s independence out front, or at least exchanging some kind of cut for the independence Rowling is able to offer her audience. Anyone else can try to emulate this, but for the vast majority, success will not come not because the independence isn’t there, but because the clout and name recognition don’t register on the Rowling Scale as much as the author would like. So in that case, the eBookstore universe hasn't changed much at all.

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