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Summary:

J. K. Rowling’s Pottermore shop, the exclusive source for Harry Potter e-books and digital audiobooks, launched yesterday, and some muggles…

J. K. Rowling’s Pottermore shop, the exclusive source for Harry Potter e-books and digital audiobooks, launched yesterday, and some muggles aren’t happy.

Negative reactions have a few common themes so far:

Downloading the books is too complicated: You create a Pottermore account, buy a book, download it and then read it on your computer, load it onto your device or link to your Kindle, Nook, Sony (NYSE: SNE) or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) account and wirelessly transfer it. (Here’s the process for various e-readers.) These are “unnecessary additional barriers to access the books,” Techdirt says, and “the number of forms and clicks needed to buy a book [are] likely to put off a lot of customers.”

There are language and regional restrictions: Wired‘s Tim Carmody notes that these restrictions “make certain editions of books available only in particular countries. This means that readers in the U.S. still can’t read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone rather than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, discover the rich U.K. slang and spelling of the unbowdlerized editions, or listen to Stephen Fry’s masterful reading of the audiobook series rather than Jim Dale’s.”

There’s still DRM, kind of: The Pottermore e-books are watermarked (or, as Pottermore calls it, “personalized”) and each can be downloaded for personal use up to eight times, so users can read the books across gadgets (or give each of their kids a copy). However, Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader discovered yesterday that when you buy an e-book from Pottermore and wirelessly push it to your account at an etailer (Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), Sony, Google) the book takes on that etailer’s DRM.

These complaints aren’t that big of a deal: Sorry, that one was mine. I don’t believe any of the above will be particularly problematic for everyday readers. The download/wireless transfer process may catch up a few but I didn’t find it difficult if you follow the instructions (no glitches) and I think a couple extra steps are worth it since you have the ability to download the book eight times and can also just load the EPUB file onto devices manually if you want. Similarly, language and regional restrictions may bother a few die-hard HP (NYSE: HPQ) fans but those are likely the same people who went out and bought all seven e-books yesterday anyway.

Possibly more problematic: Pottermore and Apple’s iBookstore haven’t come to an agreement yet because Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) uses the agency model for everything sold on iTunes. But Pottermore and Apple could still end up making a deal, and if they don’t, Apple may be a bigger loser than Pottermore. For now, users who want to read the Harry Potter e-books on an Apple device can just drag it onto their device and open it in iBooks. Or they can read it on another retailer’s app.

Overall, the Pottermore shop appears to be handling the presumably massive traffic it got yesterday just fine (though there was a possibly related glitch for under an hour at Amazon) and the site is promoting DRM-free books in a way no big-six publisher has before. For now I’m raising a glass of butterbeer to the Pottermore shop’s launch, but if you’re having issues or problems I didn’t mention here, let me know in the comments.

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  1. Actually, if you want to read a Harry Potter ebook in an Apple device, all you have to do is drag the epub file into iTunes on your computer and sync your device. Or even email yourself the file and select ‘open in iBooks’. What you can’t do is *buy* the HP books in the iBookstore from Apple. You don’t have to use another retailer’s app at all.

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  2. Can’t you just sideload the DRM-free ePub file into iBooks using iTunes? 

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    1. Laura Hazard Owen Wednesday, March 28, 2012

      Yes to both. Thanks — clarified in story.

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  3. About the DRM-free part: I bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Pottermore Shop yesterday and here’s what I found: sending the book to my Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com accounts was fairly simple — and I was quickly able to read the book on my Kindle Fire, first-gen Nook 3G, and the Nook app on my Android phone.  However, when I downloaded the epub file to my PC I found I couldn’t read it using either the free Calibre ereader software (which told me “This file is locked by DRM”) or Adobe Digital Editions, which Pottermore Shop actually recommends for reading its Harry Potter ebooks.  When I attempted to read the ebook in Adobe Digital Editions I got a pop-up box telling me “Document is licensed for a different user account”.  So DRM-free?  I don’t think so.

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    1. Laura Hazard Owen Wednesday, March 28, 2012

      Dick — how weird. Let me see if I can try to replicate that.

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  4. I think Jim Dale is terrific, but I’m in the US and would love to own digital copies of the Fry audiobooks. Hopefully we’ll be given the option.

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  5. Laura -

    I find a bigger problem is the added layers of security at the final checkout. I was literally unable to purchase books because of an error message popping up that told me my card was “not secure enough”. It made no sense. I tried four times with one care, twice with another. Still haven’t been able to get past that error message.

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  6. there are workarounds to get the UK versions of the books in the US. Check out the kindle discussion forum on amazon.

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  7. I bought the first five audiobooks from iTunes. The entire process was simple and seamless. Last month, I attempted to purchase the last audiobook. After setting up an account and attempting the purchase numerous times, I concluded their web team did not take everything into consideration. The various issues included I was unable to purchase as I was not in the U.K. and, I did not have additional security on my Visa. Eventually I was able to add another password layer to my Visa, but was still receiving the error. After about an hour, I called it quits. A few nights ago I tried again. This time the purchase went through, however, I did not have the luxury of downloading the audiobook to my iPad, iPod or iPhone. It had to be downloaded to a Mac or PC and the transferred. This was doable but a pain in the @$$. Once downloaded and transferred, the book sounds garbled and lacks the clarity of my other books. Perhaps this happened in the data transfer. I do not know. Here is what ai do know: I would gladly pay the 30% markup myself I order to have the ease of purchase and download from iTunes. Perhaps the customer experience is less important to the J.K./Potter empire than having complete control and maximum profit. I imagine they will end up losing out on a multitude of sales as most people, save the biggest of fans, will have the patience to deal with the hoops, especially if they are accustom to the iTunes experience. Time will tell.

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