CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHOR J K Rowling has launched the Pottermore online reading experience, which will invite fans online, and will sell DRM-free ebooks of the series for the first time.
The project, which is a collaboration with Sony, involves bringing the Harry Potter books online, telling the story through a web site and exclusively selling the ebook and audiobook versions in multiple languages.
What makes Pottermore so interesting is that the ebooks will not feature digital restrictions management (DRM), copyright protection designed to prevent media content from being illegally distributed on filesharing networks.
This is a significant move, as it means that the ebooks can be used on any device, from Amazon's Kindle to Apple's Ipad, both of which lock their own ebooks to their respective platforms. This open approach will be welcomed by many who find DRM technology invasive and obstructive, and it might set a precedent for other authors and publishers considering entering the digital world.
To cope with the possibility of so-called 'piracy' the ebooks will feature a digital watermark that will identify who purchased the book. This will allow authorities to track down who shared an ebook with the rest of the world, and those users could be faced with lawsuits for copyright infringement.
The website will be launched in October, with registrations being accepted from 31 July, the birthday of Harry. A lucky number of applicants will also gain early access.
The interactive storyline of the first book will be available on the web site at launch, with the second book available in 2012. All seven books will be available in both ebook and audiobook formats immediately following the October launch.
Fans will also be treated to additional stories and information from the Harry Potter world, which Rowling says she has been hoarding for years. Thousands of words of new material will be made available on the web site.
There will also be some elements of the books in an interactive format, such as the Sorting Hat and a Wand Chooser.
Rowling retained the digital rights to her books, worth an estimated £100m, for years, and she was wise to do so, as the ebook market looks set to boom. Earlier this month Amazon reported that it now sells more ebooks than print books, 105 to 100 respectively, but Rowling's decision to go it alone instead of getting a publisher to make the ebook versions will ensure that she will get a much larger slice of the pie.
Pottermore created intense speculation across the internet when the teaser web site launched last week. Some believed it stood for Potter Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Experience, with rumours suggesting that online games developer Turbine, which created the Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online games, might be creating a Harry Potter MMO. Gamers might be disappointed at today's announcement, but readers will be thrilled at the opportunity to find out more about the Harry Potter world.
"I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new digital generation," said Rowling. "I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have. Just as I have contributed to the website, everyone else will be able to join in by submitting their own comments, drawings and other content in a safe and friendly environment - Pottermore has been designed as a place to share the stories with your friends as you journey through the site." µ