Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader ran across quite a scoop the other day. He happened to notice that Pottermore has quietly changed the way it’s been distributing the Harry Potter e-books. It seems he was the first—even TechCrunch acknowledged him when it ran the story. Whereas Pottermore used to be the only place that actually sold the Potter e-books, now it is allowing other stores to sell them directly instead.
Formerly, Pottermore sold the Potter e-books directly, and allowed e-book stores to sell the Harry Potter books only by redirecting their customers to Pottermore to make the purchase through them. Even Amazon had to toe the line—if you went to buy a Potter e-book for Kindle, Amazon would explain to you that you would have to make the purchase via Pottermore and direct you there to make the payment. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, etc. would all do the same.
This stood in sharp contrast to other publishers who sold their own e-books and wanted to get into Amazon. For example, when Baen got tired of being asked “Why aren’t your books available for Kindle?” all the time, there wasn’t any question of getting Amazon to direct customers to Webscriptions to make the purchases. But the Harry Potter books were something special, and J.K. Rowling had sufficient clout that Amazon was willing to forego the whole pie in favor of the still-quite-lucrative slice Pottermore offered.
As Nate points out, Pottermore did have a deal in place with Sony that gave Sony some exclusive branding rights to Harry Potter content. But after Sony got out of the e-reader business and the merchandising deal expired, Pottermore’s revenue dried up—to the tune of a £6 million loss in 2015. Nate suspects that, since its revenue dwindled, Pottermore is eager to make it as easy as possible to get more e-book sales—which means removing the extra layer of complexity between the customer and the books.
While making customers jump through that extra hoop to buy the books via Pottermore might have gotten Pottermore a greater percentage of the revenue, it could be off-putting to customers who were used to only having to push a magic button to make the book appear. There’s no telling how many customers gave up halfway through the purchase process.
And as Baen discovered, even after selling its own e-books for itself for over ten years, the vast majority of e-reading customers now are using the Kindle, and they don’t want to have to venture outside Kindle’s walled garden to make purchases. Even letting customers click a button to e-mail the books to their Kindle was too much of a complication (when Baen was even still allowed to do this at all).
So Baen ended up changing the entire way its e-book store worked so that it could place its e-books with Amazon, and it appears that Pottermore has now done the same—perhaps as part of the site revamp it underwent late last year. While you can still buy the e-books DRM-free via Pottermore, you can now also buy them on Kindle, Nook, and other stores, too—directly, rather than via a redirect.
And it’s probably right about time Pottermore got around to making this move. It has sold the e-books exclusively itself for four years, and most of the people who would have wanted to buy them probably already have. It’s already harvested the biggest rush of new revenue. So, lacking any further big surge of e-book-buying Potter fans, at this point the easier Pottermore can make it for customers to buy their books, the more of them it will sell now.