As any Harry Potter fan knows, that spell summons an object to fly to the caster — but now even Muggles can cast this one. As suddenly as the results of a spell, J.K. Rowling's seven novels about the boy wizard went on sale as ebooks for the first time at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Although Rowling's books have sold a staggering 450 million copies worldwide in print since the first was published 15 years ago, they have never before been available in ebook format — by far the fastest-growing segment of the book market.
The ebooks were promised in July 2011 when the Pottermore.com website was announced by Rowling and Sony. The interactive, multimedia site, previewed at the LeakyCon fan convention in Orlando in July, was designed to include new content by the author as well as a shop that would be the only place to purchase Harry Potter ebooks.
Pottermore — ebooks not included — opened in a beta version to 1 million users on July 31 (Rowling's and Harry's birthday), but its planned public launch was delayed from October to April.
The specific date for that launch hasn't been announced, but the Pottermore shop (shop.pottermore.com) went public without previous announcement Tuesday. Just in time to grab a little attention away from The Hunger Games, the debut of the ebooks could have to do with a technical call to avoid opening the shop at the same time as the public launch.
Although the plan described in July was to release the books one at a time, all seven are available, as ebooks and digital audiobooks.
The first three books — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — are priced at $7.99 each; the other four (which are longer) are $9.99 each. A set of all seven ebooks is $57.24.
By comparison, paperback copies of the first three are $6.91 at amazon.com, and a boxed set of paperbacks is $50.85. A set of hardback copies is $114.07.
The ebooks are compatible with all widely used ereaders, tablets and smart phones. Each book purchased can be downloaded up to eight times for use on multiple devices — a boon for families in which kids and parents all want to read the books.
Audiobooks are $29.99 for the first three, $44.99 for the last four or $242.94 for all seven.
The books are available in U.S. and U.K. English versions, although regional restrictions in Rowling's print publishing deals apparently apply — if you live in the United States, you can't buy the British versions, a particular disappointment to fans looking forward to Stephen Fry's audio performance. French, Italian, German and Spanish editions will follow in coming weeks, and additional languages will be added later.
Rowling retained digital rights when she signed contracts with her publishers, so she is selling the books herself. The ebooks can be purchased directly from Pottermore or through ebookstores at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Google. "This is the first time Amazon and B&N have driven customers off their platform to another site, and then given the ability to push that content back to their device," Pottermore chief executive Charlie Redmayne told the Bookseller website.
Pottermore has not yet made a similar deal with Apple, so the books are not in the iBookstore, but the ebooks can be downloaded to Apple devices. Although no details of how much retailers will make from the books were released, Rowling will keep a larger share of the revenue than most authors do.
Purchasing a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at midday Tuesday went smoothly. Although enhanced versions of the books may come later, the current versions are text plus Mary GrandPre's familiar illustrations.
A huge plus for Potter fanatics fond of arguing minutiae on Web forums: The ebooks are searchable.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. Times wires were used in this report.