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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

(Potter)more money, more problems?

Pottermore Shop logo

Source: Shop.Pottermore.com

Unless you’ve been literally under a rock for the past week, you know that the epically important Harry Potter series is now available in ebook form from Pottermore.

This is exciting to me for two reasons. One, I am a product of my generation and a big nerd. I love, love, love Harry Potter. Waiting for the new hardcover every summer was purgatory. When the book finally arrived, it was understood that I was not speaking to anyone until it was finished, and it was the one time of year that I was allowed to read at the dinner table. I spent hours reading with my best friend. From the same copy. (Which, admittedly, was a strain on the neck and on our friendship when the faster reader hit the funny parts first.) I’ve read them so many times my copy of Sorcerer’s Stone fell apart, but I refuse to buy a new one because that is cheating, and an ebook, theoretically, will not degrade.

Two, I am a weensy bit preoccupied with ebook pricing (as you might have noticed). And I think our decisions during these early ereading years are going to be pivotal for the future of the industry, so Pottermore represents a fascinating new angle to the ebook pricing debate.

At first, the decision to price all the books at $7.99 got my publisher feathers all ruffled. I’m a big fan of the agency model, and at first all I could think was that $7.99 is way lower than even Amazon’s unsustainable $9.99 price point. My knee-jerk reaction was, “Come on, Rowling, we all know you don’t need to make any more money, but what about the rest of us jerks just trying to break even on our quiet books? People will expect this price if you do it. You’re worse than Amazon!”

I’m getting over it.

The first step was to recognize that the Potter books are available as mass market paperbacks. Most of the time, the ebook version of a book published first as a mass market is the same price as the print incarnation. And importantly, these aren’t new releases. Even under the agency model, the bookseller would have been within its rights to lower the price on the ebook after it was available for a few years.

The next step was to applaud Pottermore for sticking it to Amazon. Yes, you can buy Potter ebooks for your Kindle, but Amazon is only collecting an affiliate’s fee for the sale. (Now, I need to take three or four steps back here and recognize Amazon for its integral role in my Potter upbringing in years past. Thinking about it kind of floored me. Simply put, I would not be the person I am today without Amazon’s release-day shipping. Because I sadly never saw the merit in mingling with the wand-toting diehards in the line at Barnes & Noble.)

Currently, I’m in a weird sort of making-up-my-mind state. I’m excited about the potential for publishers to be their own ebook sellers, and just to see a new way for a publisher and author to market their own ebooks.

That said, I am still waiting to see what might happen because of that low price tag. And, the same model that keeps money from Amazon will also keep money from an independent ebook seller.

So, as ever, I’m waiting with bated breath to see what the general ebook-buying public has to say about Pottermore’s price, and if it has any bearing on ebook pricing at large.

9 comments on “(Potter)more money, more problems?

  1. ElmBlade43
    April 3, 2012

    I was surprised at the price point as well, because e-book publishers fought HARD to keep the price of e-books up and not let them drop to a ridiculously unsustainable low. What surprised me even more? People were complaining that they were TOO EXPENSIVE. Clearly these people must not buy many e-books.

    • Claire Schulz
      April 3, 2012

      Clearly! If the book-buying public gets used to prices like this, I’m kind of scared for the way the industry might look in a few years.

      • ElmBlade43
        April 3, 2012

        Still lots of people claiming they are too expensive for a book that’s been out that long. Wonder if anyone factors in that you get 8 copies of each book. Obviously not.

  2. Mind the Rant
    April 3, 2012

    I’m a little puzzled by this discussion. Since Rowling obviously held the ebook rights to her Potter novels, setting the $7.99 price (though the longer ebooks in the series are priced at $9.99) was her decision and no one else’s. So when you say “I’m excited about the potential for publishers to be their own ebook sellers, and just to see a new way for a publisher and author to market their own ebooks”, I’m guessing you know that in this case publisher and author are one in the same — and that Rowling’s UK publisher, Bloomsbury, and US publisher, Scholastic, don’t really enter the Pottermore Shop equation at all.

    And as for the prices themselves, there’s a large cohort of ebook fans — whose base consists of voracious readers of genre fiction like romance, fantasy, thrillers, and sci-fi — whose “habits” demand a steady stream of low-cost novels (at least two a week, I suspect) and who have grown accustomed to the $4.99 and *down* self-published ebook prices on Amazon. These folks have fixed ideas about what constitutes a disgracefully high price for an ebook and aren’t shy about letting the world know it.

    My intuition tells me that in this decade these genre readers are shaping the future of ebook pricing and, because most have given up buying physical books, the future of bookstores as well. (It isn’t rosy.) You might call it the tail wagging the dog.

    In any case it’s arguable whether $7.99/$9.99 is a low price for a Harry Potter novel. While I applaud Rowling for offering a downloadable DRM-free version of every ebook she sells — and making it possible to buy one title and read it on 4 different, largely incompatible ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and Google Books) — we all know she’s made a cool $1 billion already from Harry Potter; does she really need to price her ebooks on the high side of low? After all, she was careful to hold rights to the ebook editions herself and not make them available until sales of the physical books had largely run their course.

    Of course, I’m also unemployed and have been for over a year … so maybe I’m just envious.

    • Claire Schulz
      April 3, 2012

      Thanks for the clarification–yes, I did know the publisher and the author are one and the same, and should have made it clearer… Although, in the ebook world, it seems increasingly more common that publisher and author are “one and the same,” so maybe that’s why the line is blurring to me!

      I also appreciate that you (and others) are voicing the opposing view that $7.99 is a high price for an ebook and not a low one. That, I think, reflects the consumer standpoint. My opinion, though, is most often informed by a publisher’s standpoint and I have consistently worried that those readers accustomed to paying low ebook prices will end up drastically changing the economics of the industry.

      • Mind the Rant
        April 3, 2012

        I’m in the middle on this one — I’ve spent my entire career here in New York City working in publishing and bookselling (I was laid off by Barnes & Noble.com last year) but with free time on my hands I’ve been following the ebook market and culture and so am aware of its predilections. Do you know about Mike Shatzkin and his blog? (http://www.idealog.com/blog/) He’s *the* guy to follow for a sober, reasonably objective, publisher-side view of ebooks and what they’re doing to the publishing business.

        If you’d like an introduction to the we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-publishers-to-sell-our-ebooks point of view, try The Passive Voice blog (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/). It’s an eye-opening experience.

        Of course, it’s easy to have one’s views swayed by a vocal minority. My primary concern is that by becoming a highly visible self-publishing enabler Amazon has conditioned its 65% of the ebook reading market to expect sub-$10 prices as well as 99-cent sales that seem to come along even from legacy publishers. It’s in the air that it effectively costs nothing to publish an ebook, and even if that happens not to be true … well, we all know that hasn’t stopped millions from regarding global warming as a hoax or Obama as a Secret Muslim Socialist Nazi Nigerian Dictator.

  3. kosieeloff
    April 3, 2012

    We might see Pottermore becoming a way to gain revenue from more than just digital versions of the Harry Potter books. Readers visit Pottermore for ebooks/audiobooks, but stay for other things – things that can also be purchased. Consider Sony’s statement about its partnership with Pottermore:

    “As a leading company in entertainment and electronics including games and digital books, Sony is proud to partner with J.K. Rowling to create this interactive story-telling experience.”

    “Through Pottermore, Sony will be able to reach both current and future generations of Harry Potter fans, and introduce them to products and services beyond their imagination.”

    Potterquest? I want to be a tank!
    http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/06/16/rumor-is-pottermore-the-upcoming-harry-potter-mmo/

  4. Pingback: Congratulations, you are magical: one adult’s adventures in Pottermore « appazoogle

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