When the Harry Potter books finally went on sale in electronic form on Tuesday, it was as if Harry himself had cast the "Alohomora" spell on them -- the one that unlocks doors.
In a break with industry practices, the books aren't locked down by encryption, which means consumers can move them between devices and read them anywhere they like.
If "Pottermore," J.K. Rowling's new Web store, proves a success, it could provide a model for other authors and publishers and undermine the clout of Amazon.com Inc., which dominates e-book sales.
E-books from major publishers are sold in encrypted form today. The text of a book is scrambled so that only authorized devices and software can read it. For instance, a book bought from Amazon can be read only on the company's Kindle e-readers and on its Kindle applications for smartphones, tablets and PCs. It can't be read on Barnes & Noble's Nook e-readers.
Publishers insist on encryption in the form of "Digital Rights Management," or DRM because they believe it stops piracy. It also helps e-book retailers like Amazon defend their business models, keeping non-Amazon books off Kindle e-readers.
Charles Redmayne, CEO of Pottermore, says that "Harry Potter" books are probably the most pirated in the world already, even though --or rather because-- there have been no legal electronic versions until now. Fans have scanned or even re-typed the printed books to make them available in electronic form.
"We believe that people should have the right, once they've bought the book, to read it on any device that they chose to," says Redmayne.
Of course, there's another reason Pottermore is going DRM-free. It wants to "own" the relationship with the customers -- the Potter fans -- rather than have them go to other retailers. And the only way to get onto all reading devices without dealing with the other retailers is to sell books without DRM.
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