A Few Thoughts on those Pottermore Ebooks

The big ebook news of the day is that J.K Rowling’s Pottermore site has, at long last, made the Harry Potter novels available as ebooks. They are being sold through the site (not, technically, through Barnes & Noble or Amazon) and are DRM-Free. (Sort of, not really.) Lots of commentary out about this on the intertubes today, but let’s not forget this salient fact expressed on Twitter:

Like Louis C.K.’s DIY stand-up show a few months back, we have to keep in mind that the sure-to-be-massive success of Rowling’s self-run ebook distribution platform is possible because the author is J.K. Rowling. She’s already massively successful and well-known. She can do things like this because people will notice, and if Pottermore fails it won’t ruin her.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s spirits who may wish to write and self-publish a novel. Go for it. It’s easier now than it ever has been. But so much of the hype surrounding self-publishing is about how easy it is to be fabulously rich and successful, if only you can circumvent those meddlesome publishers. Much of this hype relies on two false assumptions. One: getting rich is the primary aim of writing. Two: you can ignore the publishers because behemoths like Amazon are going to take care of you, instead. The first is just sad. The second is facepalm inducing.

So when J.K Rowling self-distributes her own ebooks, we should take pause. She’s not you. Nobody knows who you are. That doesn’t make you a failure, of course, but you shouldn’t have delusions about what’s going to happen when you ship off your own self-published opus. Even if you go through the trouble of setting up your own online store to be free from Amazon, we can’t expect this sort of thing to become the norm. Distribution models are changing, but they are still tied to large companies using brand name recognition. Technology is disruptive, often in productive ways, but it’s not ushering in a post-capitalist reading utopia.

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