Christian Heilmann

Harry Potter, ebooks and the train journey from hell

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005 at 11:25 am

Ok, guilty as charged – I like Harry Potter (athough I still think Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” is a lot better when it comes to books parents and kids can read together – albeit more controversial).
I bought 4 copies of the new book for moi, friends and family and I am so far on page 100, and like what I see emerging. However, one thing that annoys me is that the book is bloody chunky and I can’t be bothered to carry it with me to work in the morning.

With the aftermath of the 7th of july bombings, travelling in London is still a pain. My already annoying daily trip from northeast to southwest London – normally taking 40 minutes – now exceeds more than an hour and deprived me of the thing I liked about the long commute – a chance to sit down. If I can sit down, I normally start opening this trusty T40 and start writing stuff (right now a chapter for an upcoming APress book and the things you can see on the webstandards DOM scripting task force site). If I cannot get a seat, I get out a paperback and start reading – David Sedaris, Douglas Coupland, William Gibson, Aldous Huxley amongst others. Now with the Harry Potter book being such a chunky affair, I cannot do that, as I would end up with one arm longer than the other and that is not a nice sight to behold.

Looking around the Victoria line carriage in one of its unannounced stops today and wondering when the man next to me will discover what deodorant is about – I did face his armpit – I saw one guy reading Harry Potter 6 on his pocket PC. “COOL!”, I thought and went off to see if I can purchase an ebook version of the book. And lo and behold – Nada!

Googling for Harry Potter ebook gave me
Ben Buchanan’s My Year with Harry Potter and and a stern warning by JK Rowling not to trust pirated ebooks .

So, yes, the man with the PocketPC had a pirated copy. I am sure that if I had looked closer, I’d have seen the peg leg, the eye patch and the parrot, too. If there are no official ebooks and there are pirated ones, that must mean that somebody either got hold of the original digital format – unless JK uses quill and paper – or did one hell of a job scanning a book that huge and turning it into a LIT, PDF or whatever.
An older article on slate about the piracy of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix came to the same conclusion:

In fact, something equally dramatic has already occurred: A file containing The Order of the Phoenix, the most recent Harry Potter book, did make the rounds on the Internet just hours after the book went on sale, its 870 pages apparently scanned in and distributed by rabid fans. If this doesn’t signal that it’s time for book publisher to perk up and pay attention, what would?

Well, apparently it doesn’t, as an article on CTV about J.K. Rowling refusing e-books for Harry Potter” shows that some publishers tried ebooks for kids/young adults and it didn’t work out:

Adult best sellers such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and David McCullough’s 1776 are available electronically, but not books by Rowling and many other popular children’s authors, including Lemony Snicket and Cornelia Funke. “It’s not like we haven’t tried this market,” says Jason Campbell, marketing director for Harper Media, a division of HarperCollins that oversees e-book distribution. “We’ve done R.L. Stine and (Meg Cabot’s) The Princess Diaries and it didn’t work. Princess Diaries has been our most successful young adult series in e-books, but it pales in comparison to e-book sales for Michael Crichton.”

What they fail to mention here is that “The Princess Diaries” are not in the same league as Harry Potter is. The Potter books are a rare phenomenon where the audience spans all ages, and therefore could be an opportunity as a lot of adult commuters would benefit from an ebook version.

How about a bundle ? Buy the book on amazon, and add the ebook for an extra fiver. Make the ebook digitally signed to the buyer and therefore traceable should he give it to others. The cost of producing an ebook from the digital original cannot be that high that this would not be an option, after all Harry Potter is a product that does not really suffer from bad sales numbers.

Why can’t I just have the stuff I pay money for in a format I want? Why do I have to buy a hardcover and wait for the paperback for half a year, or see a movie in the states as a DVD and have to wait another half year to see it coming to the cinema in the UK? There is no translation or dubbing to be done, so all I can think of is that someone wants to make extra money. When I can’t be bothered then to buy the DVD in the UK another year later and the sales go down piracy gets blamed. Maybe the pirates are just more up to speed on technology and we can take their edge away by beating them with their own weapons?

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