Damn you, Indecision!

Still no Harry Potter e-books

ARGH. According to this report, the last Harry Potter book won’t be offered in e-book form. I can’t say I’m surprised, but what really annoyed me about this article was that one of the reasons given was that JK Rowling preferred the reader to “experience the books on paper”. It isn’t that I totally disagree; I still like to read paper books and enjoy the tactile experience. However I have to call shenanigans on this so-called reason. If that were true, then why are the books all available as audiobooks, which are just as susceptible, if not more, as e-books are to piracy? Sure, you can argue that listening to someone read the book out loud is like having a parent read you a book, or even listening to historical accounts passed down from generation to generation via spoken word.

The article linked above gave some figures on how e-books are a relatively small slice of book purchases overall. Okay, so what is the harm then in eking out a bit more profit from e-book sales? If e-book readers make up such a small part of the readership, why is piracy this huge concern? It’s not like e-books have the same popularity as mp3s. Now more than before, e-books are starting to gain a bit of “validation” from e-book devices like the Sony Reader, and the upcoming e-ink readers from other big companies like Philips, and smaller Asian companies. I think a broader adoption of mobile PCs like UMPCs and PDA phones will help boost the e-book market, but it’s very slow going.

The thing is, it’s not like refusing to offer official e-books has really done much to curb piracy of these books. It’s not hard to find OCRed copies that are gradually proofread and improved over time. Might as well start adapting to the electronic distribution model like the music and movie industries have (in their own begrudging way) to profit from legitimate copies of the books and give readers a better reading experience. Besides, a large part of the Harry Potter fandom will buy the books several times over in their different merchandising forms — audiobooks, paperbacks, special editions, all of the movie DVDs, etc. — so I don’t see how offering e-books is going to make much of a dent in the profits. I truly wish a company like Microsoft or Apple would make e-books more mainstream so that it wouldn’t be so difficult to get popular book titles in electronic form. If iPods had an e-book feature, I’m sure more e-book titles would sell.

As for the audiobook angle, while I can see how spoken word would appeal to tradition authors, I also contend that the audiobook market has been quite profitable, as postulated in this article. Audible.com and iTunes have sold a great number of audiobook downloads. I rather think that’s the main reason that the Harry Potter books are offered in audiobook form. It’s even easier to rip audiobook CDs and post the mp3s online, yet the piracy angle isn’t being emphasized in that market. Psh.

I respect artists’ prerogative to have some control over how their audience consumes the art, but let’s face facts. The latest generation of readers are increasingly accustomed to getting a lot of content on their computers. You can’t stop OCRed copies from showing up online. Just roll with the punches and offer the official e-book version with cover art and some extras, like author interviews, or something like that. eReader.com already does this kind of thing, and it seems to be working well for them (though I’m not familiar at all with how their business is actually thriving or not). Most fans, including myself, would buy both the dead tree and e-book versions. When will authors learn that the “e” in e-books doesn’t mean evil? 😛

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