Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pottermore Uses Social DRM Methods

Yesterday saw the opening of a new kind of "bookstore":  Pottermore.

At first glance, it's the online home for all the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling.

Looking a bit more deeply, it represents something that is truly revolutionary in the world of books and publishing.  It is run by the author and it sells directly to consumers.  There is no publisher involved.  There is no Apple or Amazon or Barnes & Noble unless needed for fulfillment purposes.

The purpose the site serves is to become the social hub of everything related to the classic book series.  While no one knows exactly what that will mean (only registered users can enter), the site is now selling and distributing the works in e-book and audiobook formats.  This by itself is big news because it is the only place where these books have been made available in digital form.

Traditionally, an author writes a manuscript, and a publisher produces the final product and ships it off through distributors to retailers who sell to consumers.  While these e-books are actually digital copies of the physical books produced by Scholastic in the US, they are not available on Amazon, iTunes or other online retail sites.  Amazon visitors are greeted with this notice:

Harry Potter Kindle books are now available on Kindle! All seven books in the series can be purchased at J.K. Rowling's Pottermore Shop, a third-party site. Clicking on "Buy at Pottermore" will take you to Pottermore Shop, where you will need to create a separate account. Like all Kindle books, books purchased from Pottermore are "Buy Once, Read Everywhere" and will be delivered to your Kindle or free Kindle reading apps.

Kindle and iOS users can simply purchase from the site and download to their device.  How can this be?

The answer is in how Pottermore is handling the files they distribute.  In order to deliver a purchased file, the site dynamically "watermarks" each file it delivers so it can be traced back to the purchase.  This means the e-book can be read on any compatible device.  It also means that the purchaser is exposed if "rogue" copies of their copy surface in other e-book stores or torrent sites.  For Kindle and iOS users, Pottermore appears to handshake with Amazon and Apple servers during the fulfillment process.

We will be watching this effort closely, as will many publishers and authors.  The practice of selling direct from producer to consumers has taken a big step forward.

Having developed a unique method to ensure that only one file is delivered for each purchase, Bitmenu enables any author or publisher to do as JK Rowling,  Louis CK and others have done:  engage and sell direct.

UPDATE (5/23/12):

Digital Book World interviews the CEO of Pottermore, Charlie Redmayne.  The piece includes this about their their approach to confronting pirates:

Pottermore DRM Effect

According to Redmayne, the company observed an interesting phenomenon when it released its digital rights management-free e-books to the world.

At first, piracy spiked, as new Pottermore buyers put the DRM-free books on file-sharing sites. But soon after, the “digerati” in the book community commented that they were stupid for doing so because it punished a behavior that the community had asked for (stripping DRM from e-books). The commenters also pointed out that the files were watermarked making the piracy trackable.

After a short while, many of the files were removed and, ultimately, piracy overall of Harry Potter e-books, some of the most pirated e-books, fell by 20% to 25%, according to Redmayne.