The Bad Harry Potter Decision

February 6th, 2007 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

It is all the rage to write about the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And there is, indeed, so much to write. The release date, the title, the potential for spoilers to ruin a perfectly nice. And then there’s the fact that the book won’t be released as an electronic edition.

None of the Potter titles have been available as ebooks. The most commonly cited reason is a fear of piracy. Woe to the stupid pirate who tries to argue that he or she is selling a legitimate version of the book (as we vaguely recall happening a year or so ago). If the rights haven’t been granted, the book isn’t legitimate.

Sounds like something Johnny Cochran said. So piracy is one reason. The other reason makes our teeth gnash and skin crawl and cranky meter hit red. It’s the “smell of books” arguments. J.K. Rowling, author of the soon-to-be-ended series, has stated that she prefers her readers to experience the book in all of its paper and cardboard and glue glory. Fair enough. The books have lovely typography, a nice weight of paperstock, and lovely little illustrative elements. The book is a package, an event, an item to display proudly after you’ve completed your 24-hour reading marathon. There is still pleasure in being the first kid on the block to finish something, isn’t there?

The book is also like a zillion pages long and will not fit neatly into a purse or backpack. Even a purse the size of the BS bag. To give you a sense of size, we could easily carry a toaster oven, but not the next Harry Potter title. You want to read HP on the beach in Hawaii? Don’t freak out when you have to pay a surcharge for overweight luggage.

Sad no, when even your luggage is overweight?

Sorry. We’re on a diet this week.

Rowling is projecting her fantasy of how her books should be read on her readers. There are arguments suggesting that artists should have a right to control how their work is experienced. We don’t buy them. That assumes every individual comes to a work with the same set of expectations, a controlled environment. Holding a book in your hands and flipping pages doesn’t mean that the story is being absorbed, that great pleasure is felt. Sometimes, the mind wanders, the brain freezes, the kids scream.

And all the lovely typography in the world will not make that reading experience something near what Rowling wants it to be.

Heck, some people don’t even read at all. Stop. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Okay. It’s true. There is a subset of the reading population that prefers to experience books in an audible format. They have a curious antipathy toward the printed word, but tell them a story, and you have a happy camper. Which should remind us all that the story as we know it comes from a rich and varied oral tradition; this whole book thing is really a 500-year old phenomenon. Compared to song and painting, it hasn’t stood the real test of time.

Rowling’s romantic view of books is all very well and good. She won’t lose sales over her decision to deny the world an ebook version of the Harry Potter series. Our household certainly won’t let that hold us back. But isn’t all about the reader? Making the reading experience — whatever the format — as pleasurable as possible? If J.K. Rowling likes to write longhand, that is her right and we understand. Longhand is a great way to work. We take that route quite often.

Reading is a personal experience, and Rowling knows that better than most. What she’s forgotten is that the personal belongs to the reader, not the author once the book is published.

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

4 responses so far ↓

  • Kirk // Feb 6, 2007 at 10:04 am

    So what you’re saying is, the killer technology for ebooks is something like smell-o-vision. Maybe they should call it smell-o-books.

    Don’t laugh, they actually have something like this for cellphones in Japan.

  • meika // Feb 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    As I remember it the last potter book was scanned by a european team (a few pages each) and available on P2P file shairng networks with about 48 hours.

    She is the fool.

  • Martyn Daniels // Feb 7, 2007 at 2:29 am

    in my blog i cover the lost opportunity not only to stimulate the ebook market but to do this on the Dickens model (see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Print at )

  • Lucas Murtinho // Feb 7, 2007 at 5:14 am

    And it should be said that there are audible versions of Harry Potter (with the great Stephen Fry as narrator). Paper, cardboard, glue and compact discs.