How JK Rowling and Pottermore Can Help You Sell Ebooks

By | July 1, 2011

It’s been all over the web: JK Rowling will release ebooks of all the Harry Potter books exclusively through her new website Pottermore. It’s a very smart and bold move on her part, and I think there’s a lot of good ideas here that can work for other authors. Yes, even authors who aren’t multimillionaires (in other words, all of us).

Pottermore isn’t open for business yet, and won’t be until October, but you can leave your email address there. In other words, they’re already building a mailing list that will surely be gigantic. That’s the first tip we can take from JK Rowling:

While you’re still building your website, collect email addresses from interested visitors. That way you’ll have a starter group of people for your mailing list. Don’t abuse the privilege and spam them with announcements every day — just figure out what you would like to hear about from a favorite author, and take it from there.

JK Rowling will benefit hugely from the ebook sales, because she retains ebook publishing rights. Her publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, according to Wired, have print publishing rights, though they will apparently get a cut from the ebook sales. This is something that will be difficult for a new author without the clout of JK Rowling, but it’s an important point all the same:

If you choose a traditional print publisher for your books, fight as hard as you can to retain ebook rights.
Ebook bestseller Joe Konrath also advocates this strategy. He believes he could sell some of his ebooks at a much higher rate, if only his print publisher didn’t control the rights, distribution, covers and pricing. And he also believes that if you run the numbers, signing with a traditional publisher could be a very bad idea, even if you take ebooks out of the equation.

Wired reports that

Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform. She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identify of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn’t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user.

I think this is another very smart move on Rowling’s part. It’s frustrating for the bookstore chains who won’t be able to sell the ebooks, but on the other hand, bookstores have already made massive profits on the Potter hardbacks and paperbacks.

Meanwhile, Rowling is not locked into the Kindle or the Sony Reader or the Nook or any other ebook reader. Nor is she paying commission to Amazon, Apple, BN, Smashwords or any other ebook seller. Whatever gargantuan profit the ebooks realize will be all hers, and her readers will benefit from the lack of DRM.

For other ebook authors, I think the idea here is:

Diversify. Don’t just sell books through Amazon or Smashwords. Sell them on your own website, too, and if at all possible, make them DRM-free. This also allows you to sell ebooks in a wider variety of formats: .pdf, .rtf, .epub.

Pottermore won’t just offer ebooks. It will also be a place for Potter fans to hang out, and delve deeper into the Potter universe. And JK Rowling has promised 18.000 words of notes and background material, exclusive to those fans. That’s a big enticement to sign up, even if you already know all the Potter books by heart and aren’t interested in the ebooks.

That’s the last smart move I think other authors would do well to copy:
Offer more. If you have a bunch of short stories, you can sell them on your website, but you can also offer some of them for free. Give readers a reason to visit your website, and a taste of your writing that they won’t be able to find elsewhere.

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