Archive for June 23rd, 2011

Rowling Owns Her Digital Rights

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me say that several times today.  In large part that’s because I’m trying to wrap my mind around the concept.  This all wraps around the launch of the Pottermore site which will, for the first time, make the Harry Potter books available for electronic readers.  I’ll admit, I’ve not done all the research on just what the formats will be, what the process is, what readers will be able to read them, because my mind keeps coming back to one thing:

Rowling owns her digital rights.

Look, you will never hear me say a bad word about Rowling.  In fact, I envy her success.  And I envy it more right now.  For those who aren’t quite getting this gist of this: since the advent of digital readers, digital rights have started showing up as one of the rights publishers are looking to buy from authors for their stories.  It’s the right to distribute the book through Kindle, through iBooks, through ePub files, any and all of that.  Through either some shrewd negotiation by Rowling and her agency, or though some short sightedness by her publishers, Rowling retained the digital rights, and has refused to exercise them.  Even though these rights would potentially earn her up to £100m ($160m) by some estimates.  But that would be selling them to a publisher who would then pay her a royalty on sales.

Instead, witness Pottermore.  Witness an author leveraging one of the most popular series of all times and handling the direct distribution of the digital copies.  And then witness as she brings in the lion share of the money because she’s not going through a publisher.  And for all of that, all I can do is applaud and grow that much more desperately jealous.

Well played, JK.  Well played.

Update: Discussing this on Twitter I saw an analogy to Lucas keeping merchandise rights, which in retrospect is one of the single worst business decisions ever made by a studio, simply because merchandise wasn’t a thing until Lucas made it a thing.  There’s probably something similar going on here.  Digital rights weren’t really a thing when Rowling got her first contract, and any attempts to renegotiate to include digital rights included her agent smartly saying “well, I’m sure some other publisher would be happy to make the obscene gobs of money that Potter is bringing in,” and it died then and there.  Also means that, much like it’s nearly impossible to keep merchandise rights, publishers will make sure to work as hard as they can not to make this mistake again.

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