JK Rowling To Self-Publish Harry Potter E-Books

In April, I predicted that a major international bestseller – a household name – would self-publish by the end of the summer.

It looks like we won’t have to wait that long.

JK Rowling announced the launch of Pottermore.com – which will be the exclusive vendor for the Harry Potter series in digital and audio formats.

The e-books (and audiobooks) will be available – for the first time – from October, in a selection of languages.

In addition, on YouTube, Rowling said the website would be host to “an interactive reading experience” which is separate from the e-books. The website will be “free-to-use”.

There are a whole host of corporate partners involved. The website was executed with Sony, OverDrive will set-up and run the e-bookstore, and as for the e-books and audiobooks themselves, Rowling stated that she will be “publishing in partnership” with her existing publishers across the world.

What does this mean? Well, her US publishers – Scholastic – issued a statement:

“Scholastic is proud to be a key partner in the Pottermore project…providing marketing and promotion support…Scholastic will receive a royalty on sales of the U.S. editions of the ebooks.”

This sounds like Rowling is giving Scholastic a percentage in return for “marketing and promotion support”. If that’s the case, and if she has a similar deal worked out with the rest of her publishers, then we can quite clearly say that this is Rowling self-publishing the Harry Potter e-books.

In case you have been living under a rock for the last 14 years, the Harry Potter series of seven books has sold over 450m print copies, spawned eight movies, and the last book holds the record for the most copies sold in the first 24 hours – 8.3m.

Obviously, the big losers in this deal are Amazon (and the other retailers). Sales will be direct from her website, and exclusively available there (for now at least). The big winners? JK Rowling, and her fans.

Big news. What do you think?

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

69 Replies to “JK Rowling To Self-Publish Harry Potter E-Books”

    1. Traxy, I think you are missing the point. It’s not about selling ebooks its about creating a community where new content can be exchanged, fans can interact, and the author will “stop in”. It’s essentially a virtual theme park for readers.

  1. I got them from the library first time around. Enjoyed them, but no interest in reading them again. I think she’ll do very well, though. Plenty of people will want to have e-copies of the books, I imagine. Plus there may be one or two holdouts who haven’t read them yet. lol I think it’s a smart business decision for her not to put all her eggs in one basket, so to speak. Bet she’ll make heaps more off the ebooks than she ever did off hard copies. Good for her.

      1. All the better for the rest of us! 😉 lol

        As to “Is she self-published?” Well, she’s got an awful lot of “partners”. And she’s giving a percentage to Scholastic. I guess the question boils down to whether or not she’s actually publishing this HERSELF and what the contracts with her “partners” read.

        But still, if she opens people’s eyes to the world of indies, that can only benefit the rest of us.

        1. Going by Scholastic’s statement, they did not describe themselves as “publishers” of the e-books. They said they were “key partners” in the project.

          Now, my editor and cover designer are “key partners” in my self-publishing project. I just pay them a flat fee rather than a percentage.

          Scholastic said they “…will receive a royalty on sales…” which, to me, seems to indicate that Rowling’s company Pottermore will by paying them for their services (marketing/promotion).

          To me, that’s self-publishing, although I accept that there will be many who disagree. I’m happy to consider the alternative.

    1. Shea – she has basically “bought” the right to be the sole source for her content – no matter how many “partners” she has the important point is that no one but her can dictate in what manner and at what price the intellectual property is distributed.

  2. Interesting she’s bypassing the two largest ebookstores in the world (Amazon/BN). I guess when you’re a bazillionnaire with millions salivating for anything Harry Potter, you can do that.

    I’ve always had the feeling that Kindle and Nook owners prefer to shop from those specific stores; it’s easy and convenient, syncs across multiple devices, is in their online account, etc. Which is why I put most of my book marketing behind Amz/BN, not Smashwords/Diesel/etc.

    I wonder how this ‘3rd party’ ebook selling method will hit those types of clients? They’d have to sideload a file, right? Might be a pain/difficult/impossible for many casual e-reader users. Or does Overdrive integrate into the device differently?

    With Rowling’s power, this method may (a) change the way people shop for ebooks, and/or (b) scare the pants off Amz/BN.


  3. When the later Potter books came out to ever-increasing success, I thought it was odd that there NEVER were any official ebook versions. Well, it was not odd at all—it was smart. This news made me laugh.

    1. I think they didn’t come out because neither party (Rowlings or Scholastic) had the power to do so. And they have probably been battling over that for all this time.

      1. That’s possible, we don’t know what was going on behind the scenes.

        However, there are many precedents of authors signing contracts which didn’t mention e-books and them being able to assert those rights. Scholastic didn’t pay for them, so they weren’t entitled to them. I think a judge would have seen it that way.

        Anyway, this doesn’t work out too badly for Scholastic. They get a cut. Rowling & Scholastic can cross-promote. Everyone’s happy (except Amazon).

  4. This is excellent news for her and potential fans who have not read her books. I started when the Half Blood Prince first came out and have read all since. I admire her struggle, as well as obvious business savvy.

  5. Boy, I hope this little self-publisher can make a go of it and show everyone that self-publishing can work for the average, common, unknown author!!! 😉

    Seriously, it makes a ton of sense from a business perspective, but it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me. It was obvious there was a reason there weren’t eBooks already, you know? So it’s kind of a “duh” announcement. 🙂

    1. I respectfully disagree. For me this is HUGE and revolutionary. For the first time we are going to see what a true “enhanced digital environment” can be like for a fiction work. Enhanced books (apps) for non-fiction are cool as they have videos, popups etc. But that really doesn’t translate to fiction. To have a site of, what will probably be millions, of avid fans in one place has epic implications from a marketing perspective. The most critical piece of this puzzle is the one in “control” of the content is the one who created it. I can’t think of any other time that such a thing happened – other then some failed early attempts by Steven King at novel serialization. At that time – this was all too new. With where people are now from a “social network” perspective this will have MAJOR implications.

      1. I have to ask, major implications for who exactly? Will you have milllions of fans on your website next week to market to thanks to this? Rowling doesn’t exactly have to worry about getting people on her website. How does this help other “self-publishers”?

        1. Possibly an increase in the amount of people owning e-readers? Possibly the growth of e-books picking up pace? If the pie gets bigger, that’s good for everyone.

  6. So, I’m getting a bit of heat (elsewhere) for suggesting this is “self-publishing”.

    This is the way I see it. She is throwing her publishers a percentage for marketing and promotion (which makes sense, this way they can cross-promote the print and e-books).

    If I publish an e-book and pay a company a percentage of my sales to help me with marketing and promotion that STILL means I am self-publishing.

    To me, going by the details we have so far, it’s clear. This is self-publishing.

    1. Self-publishing may not be the EXACT right term, but maybe there isn’t one for exactly what she’s doing, you know? Either way, it IS different than the standard “sell your rights to a publisher and get a small cut” deal most traditionally published authors have available to them!

      1. @”Writer”
        Rowling is SELF-PUBLISHING. That’s EXACTLY what it is. Okay? SP has many different levels & this is one of them. She is pulishing HER OWN E-BOOKS on HER OWN SITE. She is the one in charge of everything. X_x Trying to make you understand. And you asked how this is helping self publishers across the land? In the words of Homer Simpson: “Duh”. Also, this gig is to bring the HP series to new, young readers in particular, not old-timers in particular.:

      2. Oh, Edward Cullen, thanks for letting me know she’s actually self
        “pulishing” — that’s totally different! 😉

        Okay, so JK Rowling, who has millions of fans already, self-publishes her eBooks and sells millions of copies. And then you sell a million copies why?

        I’ve been seeing the argument from self-publishing advocates for YEARS. “Someone famous self-published, now everyone will recognize my greatness as a self-publisher, too!”

        More people owning e-readers will help everyone who publishes eBooks, but you still actually have to market your work. You’re not going to sell a million copies next year because a million Harry Potter fans bought Kindles this year…

        1. I don’t buy into the notion that this legitimizes self-publishing. That assumes that it was illegitimate before. It has been legitimate and viable for quite some time. Bob Mayer, an NYT bestseller who sold over a million print books, is making more from self-publishing than he ever did from trade publishing.

          It’s only illegitimate in the eyes of those who are ignorant of what is happening or those in denial – and if you look closely they usually have a stake in the status quo.

          However, I do think that this move will shift e-readers. More e-reader sales equals a boom in e-book sales. There are only seven Harry Potter books, and they sold to a pretty wide demographic. Those readers will need something else to read when they are done with those.

      3. I don’t think it’s a question of legitimate vs. illegitimate. Whose to say what’s best for any individual writer — you created the work, choose the path that’s right for you.

        But I’m really kind of tired of self-publishing zealots who say, “NOW we’re all going to sell millions of copies of our eBook because XXX has made money self-publishing!”

        Do you remember all of the scamming vanity presses of the 80s? How about the scamming “help you publish your work” companies of the 90s, some of which still exist today?

        That’s what THEY all said to writers… “You’re a misunderstood genius and you could be selling millions of copies of your stories right now!”

    2. Tell the others…at the place where I can’t speak…that it is self publishing because of one important fact. WHO HAS THE CONTROL? The answer is Rowlings – so it is she is self-publishing. In any type of “traditional” (oops not allowed to use that word – you substitute something else) publishing arrangement the author relinquishes that control to “the experts”. She is “directing” them – it is an open and shut case.

      1. Well that place, where I can’t speak either so I’m in good company, would do anything to say that self-publishing can’t work, so I’d take any opinion there with a HUGE grain of salt and expect to receive an unpleasant message if you insist that it can.

        If Rowling is in control then there isn’t another term for it but self-publishing. It is a new permutation of self-publishing, but that’s to be expected because things are still evolving.

    3. I agree, this is self-publishing. Her publisher is only getting a percentage for marketing and she is in charge of her works, instead of the other way around. I love it that she has the freedom not only to control her works but apparently the ability to do things her way. This is good news for all self-publishers, as it adds to the credibilty of the decisions being made by many authors to self-published their works. I personally love the freedom self-publishing (ebooks and POD) has given me with my work and with my late husband’s backlists.

  7. Makes you wonder how long it will be before the other bigfoot writers of the world decide they don’t need their publishers much either. Stephen King, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, etc., etc.: they already own a franchise and could make so much more money for themselves by working outside the existing publishing structure. There must be a lot of nervous chatter in NYC today.

    1. I think the only thing that has stopped Stephen King is the fact that he loves working with Scribner and he doesn’t “need” the extra money he’d make from doing it himself. 😉

      That said, I believe he did “self-publishing” the eBook of his book called Blockade Billy last year after it was originally published by a small press and before his New York publisher bought the reprint rights. He used the name “Storyville” I think:


  8. I think this is great news for all her readers. An avid fan who wants to take Harry on holiday would soon exceed their luggage allowance. Now they can take some clothes and sun-block.

  9. This is huge and another shift in the publishing paradigm. My take on giving Scholastic a royalty is a bit diferent then yours. I suspect that the ebook rights were essentially in limbo. The early contracts surely had no concept and so were not stated, but a non-compete clause probably prevented her from putting them (either by herself or selling to others). Basically neither party could publish them. So I suspect that she finally “bought” back the rights by agreeing to pay them a percentage.

    It’s a brilliant move and shows the shift to authors controlling content – as she has proven in the past Rowlings is one smart cookie.

    1. It is a brilliant move.

      And the devil is in the details. Some clever marketing stuff in there. First, the site opens in October. 1 million fans will get a preview before that. To be eligible for a chance to be selected you must submit your email address in the month or so.

      She will hoover up every single Harry Potter fans email, location, age etc etc.

      It will be the mailing list to beat all mailing lists.

      1. And THAT is the most clever part of it. I’m sure she already had a sizeable mailing list from her regular website, but this data will be extremely valuable to her future electronic marketing efforts because it’ll be fresh and these are the fans who are still the most engaged even though the series has ended.

        1. Exactly. That mailing list will be gold. She can sell to these people forever, and directly too. Who needs a retailer when you have 100m email addresses of people you know will be interested in your products?

  10. I’m afraid I’m blind to the implications here. (I originally wrote “I’m blond to the implications” — same difference.) Everything is changing at the speed of light these days, it seems. I’m just holding on tight and hoping something doesn’t break before I get the first couple of novels out.

    The only thing I do feel confident of is that the people who hate self-publishing will twist themselves up into however many knots are necessary to say this is not self-publishing and/or it’s different because it’s Rowling and not some “puddle of pus” nobody.

    1. Indeed.

      More importantly for the average schmoes, e-books are up 150% year-on-year, print down 10% http://bit.ly/lnG6Hi

      I’ll blog more about that maybe tomorrow, but the AAP are clearly seeing some seasonality in e-books – so if your sales are down at the mo, don’t panic, and wait for the fall.

      One thing this deal does for self-publishers – lots of people buying new e-readers from October on.

      1. “One thing this deal does for self-publishers – lots of people buying new e-readers from October on.”

        That is a very good point. Something to look forward to.

  11. The detail is in the language used that indicates its more self-publishing than not. Hasn’t it always been in the past the author gets the royalty, and now the tables are turned. “Scholastic will receive a royalty on sales of the U.S. editions of the ebooks.” I’ve never seen this kind of language before and says to me JK is fully in control, not the print book publishers. Some folks may say that’s threading a fine needle, but Scholastic’s announcement really struck me as unusual. And yes, e-reader sales are going to go through the roof.

    1. I have seen this language before. Except it’s usually the other way around. She has inverted the publisher-author relationship. She controls the rights, they are providing her with a “service” for a percentage. It’s remarkable.

  12. Guys,

    The HP fans are a special kind of crazy. They would buy soil from my yard if I stamped “Harry Potter” on the bag.

    Seriously though, picture this: a fancy new Sony tablet pre-loaded with all 7 Harry Potter books plus some exclusive content (a short story or whatever).

    That will sell insane numbers.


  13. Wow, this is pretty exciting. I’ve never read Harry Potter either, but I can see how this is going to cause a lot of commotion in the publishing world. I had the same idea – whatever happens with ebooks in the long run, this fall and winter might have just become a really good time to be releasing an ebook.

  14. Dave said. “One thing this deal does for self-publishers – lots of people buying new e-readers from October on.”

    That is what I was thinking. This holiday season ought to be great for all ebook authors unless the economy does another dive or some other entertainment gadget completely blows the e-reader out of the water.

    1. I don’t know…I can’t imagine Harry Potter books in e-book format would stimulate anyone to go buy a Kindle/Nook, do you? Rowling fans own all the books in print; I think it’s more of the people who already have the e-readers will buy HER new e-books to complete their collections. Like buying the BluRay Star Wars DVDs later this year even though I own the old ones. Well, nevermind – that doesn’t make sense, as the quality would be better, and an ebook Harry Potter is the same text. Would they buy Kindles to see enhanced features? Not sure…


      1. Yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been thinking — unless she released a new Harry Potter novella ONLY as an eBook through her new website… that would really turn some heads! 🙂

      2. It sounded to me as if the books themselves would have enhancements — maybe author commentaries (just speculating) — but maybe I misunderstood. If so then I think it might get a core group of fans to repurchase her books (or some to try one of the enhanced books at least).

        I have admit I’m curious because it will be in Rowling’s hands and she won’t have to compromise to her publishers or to Hollywood. It will give us a glimpse in her mind unfiltered, so to speak.

  15. Not having Harry Potter on Amazon sounds good to me. There’s enough competition out there without Rowling hogging the Kindle top ten for the next year or so.

    As for encouraging e-reader sales – unless prices come down to affordable levels for families then I’d guess most fans will settle for downloading whatever app is available to their existing laptop, iPad or whatever.

    What is does do is signal the reign of paper is well and truly coming to an end.

    1. Mark,

      I think all of the major companies will have $99 (or less) e-readers for Christmas – Amazon, B&N, Kobo – that price is a pyschological tipping point.

      The numbers of e-readers, smartphones, and tablets that will be sold from October to Christmas will be insane (with or without Harry Potter).

      The e-book market is going to explode (again).


      1. Yeah, I’ve been looking at Kindles, but at $139 plus another $30 or so for shipping to Canada I’d rather stick to running the Kindle software on my laptop instead. Get it down to $99 and have it in the stores here and I’d pick one up next time I’m at the mall.

        1. Exactly my feeling. I’m living in Sweden at the moment. I have all those charges plus import duties. On top of that, Amazon stick a $2 Whispernet Surcharge on every single e-book. Very annoying.

      2. Yep, at $99, they’ll sell a lot more — I’ve assumed their manufacturing costs haven’t quite come down enough yet to hit that price. I was surprised the Kindle with Ads wasn’t $99…

        A lot of people are reading eBooks on “non-dedicated” devices, too, like their phones and tablets… so either way, the readership for eBooks is only going to grow each year… It’s a cool time to be publishing.

  16. So, does everyone who has published through Smashwords now make sure that their book is ready on Sony for when the tidal wave comes? For me, they are going to be the biggest winners. *shrugs*. (point to note: we haven’t sold ONE book on Sony to date, yet 65,000 on Amazon). Surely the Pottermore site will direct everyone to Sony e-readers?

    Posted today about this :http://saffinadesforges.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/j-k-rowling-goes-indie-and-potteris-nomore/

    The only real winner here is JK, it’s a no brainer really…

    Good luck to her and the rest of us serfs who will be forever riding on the tail of her broomstick dust.


    1. Yeah, I’m selling about 1,000 units a month of one of my eBooks on Amazon, another 750 copies or so on B&N, maybe 100 on iBookstore, and almost none on Sony… That has always struck me as very odd! Are there just that few people using their Sony reader?

    2. Saffi,

      I don’t know of anyone that sells a lot on Sony. I think the newer Sony e-readers just use mobi files, so maybe all those guys shop on B&N and elsewhere.

      The e-books will be available in all formats – she stressed that – but that doesn’t mean there will be a new Sony e-reader pre-loaded with all the HP books in October.


  17. David,

    I read you post on the (cough, cough) writer’s forum. It’s amazing to me that these people will stare a horse in the face and tell you its a goat. So ridiculous. They are missing the point that JK Rowling is the one in control, not her publishers, not Amazon, not B&N, not her partners, not agents. *She* is the one doing this. That is what self-publishing is all about – giving the author control of their own work.

    1. Hi Meg,

      They pay you by cheque. But, Amazon will withhold 30% of your royalties until your clear your tax status with them. This involves filling out a few forms and sending them a notarized copy of your passport.


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