A couple of weeks ago, J. K. Rowling announced the Fall debut of Pottermore, a free website based on the further development, and exploitation, of the Harry Potter books. For now, fans are limited to registering their interest, but come fall, the site will be the sole source for the ebook releases of the book series. Controlling her own ebook publication will allow Rowling to avoid the fees collected by other online book sellers, and controlling how the ebooks are used. Rowling's indicated that she'll release the e-book versions in multiple formats, and DRM-Free. (DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a system that lets copyright owners place limits on use of content). Instead, ebook copies will use a digital watermarking system that will identify both authorship and ownership of copies. This could be the start of an important shift in digital publishing. Much like how Amazon's shift to DRM-Free digital copies of music has prompted other digital music sellers to follow suit, the success in offering such a potentially valuable franchise without DRM could encourage other publishers to follow suit. (In Amazon's negotiations with major publishers for it's Kindle bookstore, the publishers insisted on integration of a DRM system, with publisher control over limiting use).
There's promise of the site also making available background information, and shorter stories and tales set in the Potter Universe. The goal is to create an immersive and potentially interactive experience. Rowling indicated that one motivation for the site was the idea that: "We can guarantee that people everywhere are getting the same experience at the same time." Rowling indicated that each chapter in the e-book versions will contain interactive "moments" that integrate new illustrations with elements of game play.
There are hints of social media aspects as well, with the potential of Pottermore serving as a central site for the hundreds of fan groups and thousands of fan-generated content set in the virtual world of Harry Potter.
Pottermore also seems set to exploit the potential for multiple revenue streams. The site already has a corporate sponsor in Sony, and major revenue potential in selling the digital versions of the seven Harry Potter books. But publishing revenue need not be limited to the existing volumes. Even if the various stories and tales are offered free on the website, Rowling can always repackage them as new volumes for sale, potentially in both digital and print versions. Pottermore will help in establishing and maintaining the Potter brand, and the Sony sponsorship is only the tip of the potential advertising iceberg. Then consider the potential for merchandizing the brand, both directly by creating new products, and indirectly by recommendation links to outside stores and products.
Admittedly, Rowling is starting with one of the most valuable publishing brands. Still, it's an interesting model, and one that could well set some precedents for the future of digital publishing.
Sources: "Is Pottermore The Future of Publishing?" Online Spin
"What Publishers Should Learn from J.K. Rowling's Pottermore," Forbes
For details and speculation about Pottermore, check:
"JK Rowling's 'Pottermore' details revealed: Harry Potter e-books and more," Wired.co.uk
"Pottermore: What's in Store for Harry Potter Fans?" Wired