For years J.K. Rowling refused to release e-book editions of the hugely successful Harry Potter series, citing piracy concerns. Of course, this had the opposite effect; the traffic in illegal e-copies of her seven HP novels reached record proportions. Now the author has done a complete turnaround by announcing the launch of Pottermore.com, a website that will carry digital editions of her books. While Ms Rowling's hand may have been forced, her plan is revolutionary in some critical respects and has implications for the future of digital publishing. Since Pottermore.com will be the single legal source for the HP e-books, it is likely to demonstrate that successful authors can find a way around major e-book sellers, who take a share of the profit; predictably, some have reacted with alarm to the author's initiative. The books will not be under the restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) regime, which means they will not be locked on one platform but can be accessed on a variety of electronic book reading devices; the piracy problem will be tackled by means of a digital watermark that can assist in tracking those who illegally share a purchased e-book.
Pottermore.com, which will be up and running in October 2011, has been conceived as much more than a website selling e-book editions of the HP series. Yes of course, there will be new material about the characters and places. But the real attraction of the website, on which Ms Rowling has worked for about a year in close collaboration with web developers, will be its interactivity. Expect to find illustrations, quizzes, gaming, video streaming, and meet other HP fans online. The digital revolution has already had a huge impact on the book trade, and the e-book sales have seen an explosive growth worldwide. Recently, Amazon.com, which describes itself as the “world's biggest bookstore,” announced that it now sells more electronic books than print editions. But the way we read and learn in the future is also likely to be transformed, given the potential the web holds for interactivity. Last month, in a presentation that outlined his company's vision for the future, the CEO of Penguin Books, John Makinson, talked of embedding interactive content such as audio and video streaming into its e-books. Apart from providing a new kind of reading experience, such interactivity has enormous potential as a teaching and learning aid. So while Ms Rowling's new experiment may be viewed as a business venture by a phenomenally successful writer, at another level she may be a step ahead of others in foreseeing the evolution of reading.