London Harry Potter battled the forces of evil and now is set to conquer the web — coming to e-books in a groundbreaking deal that has delighted fans but alarmed the book industry that helped make creator J.K. Rowling a billionaire.
Rowling announced Thursday that her seven novels about the boy wizard will be sold for the first time as e-books, beginning in October, exclusively through a new online portal to her wizarding world called “Pottermore.”
The deal brings longtime e-book refusnik Rowling into the digital fold, but comes as a bitter potion to established booksellers, who will be shut out of the latest chapter of a vastly profitable saga.
“You can’t hold back progress,” Rowling told reporters. “E-books are here and they are here to stay.”
The Potter novels will be available as audiobooks and e-books in multiple languages, initially including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. The “Pottermore” website, meanwhile, is an immersive online environment that combines elements of a role-playing game and a digital encyclopedia with social networking and an online store.
By selling directly to fans, Rowling is bypassing established online retailers like Amazon, although the creators of “Pottermore” say the books will be compatible with popular e-readers including Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and Apple’s iPad.
Tom Turcan, chief operating officer of the new venture, Pottermore Ltd., said Rowling wanted “to make the books available to everybody, not to make them available only to people who own a particular set of devices, or tethered to a particular set of platforms.”
Phil Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, a London-based trade magazine, said cutting out retailers was a gamble — but if anyone can pull that off, it would be Rowling. The 45-year-old British author has retained the electronic publishing rights to her books, which have sold 450 million copies around the world in paper form.
“Only Rowling could do this,” he said. “I don’t think any other author could launch their own site and get fans to buy e-books through it. And I think she will succeed. I think she will get hordes of fans on the site and sell hundreds of thousands of e-books.”