Did J. K. Rowling just transform book publishing?

Matthew Yglesias thinks so.  As with his previous article about book publishing, I don’t quite get it.

Rowling has bypassed the standard ebook sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sell her Harry Potter ebooks on her own web site.  (The books sell for $7.99 or $9.99 apiece, which seems pretty reasonable to me.)  Apparently Amazon points you off to her Pottermore site instead of offering the books directly from its Kindle site; that sounds new.  Presumably if you buy via Amazon she is getting a higher cut of the sale price than the 70% that regular authors get; but that’s not something any random author can pull off.  If you buy directly from her site, presumably she is getting all of the sale price (minus credit card transaction fees and maybe some site design costs).  But that’s not new; I could do it too, if I wanted.

The reason I started this blog is to provide a web presence where I could let people know my ebooks existed.  Previously, if you searched for me on Google, you would encounter lots of hits for a British guy with my name who ran British Rail or something like that (plus some other Richard Bowkers–who knew the name was so popular?).  These other Richard Bowkers haven’t gone away, but you’ll now typically find this site on the first page of Google search results, which is what I had in mind.  Now that I have the web presence,  it wouldn’t be too hard to let you just buy the books here.  More profit for me!

What the Rowling approach doesn’t do is allow readers to buy her ebooks at a discount, which is what the wholesale model is all about.  No matter where you buy the book, you’ll end up paying the same price for it.  So that part of the ebook business hasn’t changed at all with her new site.  Given the agreement I signed with Amazon, I couldn’t charge a different price either.  You might imagine that you could buy a book more cheaply if you were to get it directly from the author.  But if I charge a lower price here, Amazon has the right to lower the price on its site.  So you might just as well buy my books from Amazon, which provides me with another source of publicity for them.  So please do so.

Also, please, write reviews!  And tag my tags!

2 thoughts on “Did J. K. Rowling just transform book publishing?

  1. Yah, I clicked at B&N to see what price they were asking (no price given on the B&N site). The click ultimately took me to the Pottermore site, where I could buy the books. I assume Pottermore must pay B&N, Amazon, etc. some kind of referral fee for directing ebook sales their way.

    Transformed publishing? Nah, I think it just demonstrates star power. Maybe we’ll have that kind of power someday.


  2. Actually, it’s more complicated than I thought. I just nosed around the Pottermore site, and it appears that if you buy, say, a Kindle-format book, it gets linked back to the Kindle store for actual downloading. Also, you cannot buy the British version of the book in the U.S., because of “publishing restrictions.” This seems odd, given that Rowling–from what I’ve read–kept all ebook rights to herself. Geographical restrictions from the paper editions, must somehow carry over.


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