That post was behind a paywall, and so it was of little use to my readers, but today I have some good news for you. Teleread has tipped me to the fact that yesterday The Scotsman rehashed many of the points in that older post in The Bookseller before going on to add some additional detail which reinforces the conclusion that no publisher is an island.
I had already reported that Pottermore's revenues had declined when its marketing deal with Sony ended, costing the company over 70% of its revenues, and now thanks to The Scotsman we also know that ebooks had been on a gradual decline as well.
Up until late last year, Pottermore was the only place to buy Harry Potter audiobooks ebooks (even Amazon referred shoppers to the site). But in spite of that exclusivity, Pottermore's ebook sales had continued to decline over the past few years:
But paperwork filed with Companies House suggest that assessment was premature. Its annual report for the year ended 31 March, 2015, shows the dramatic downturn in royalties impacting on Pottermore’s balance sheet.
Online sales generated by fans buying digital copies are also on the wane, down from £4.7m to £3.9m over the same period. Given that sales stood at £5.9m back in 2013, it indicates that Pottermore is struggling to attract new converts to a franchise that has sold around 450 million print copies worldwide.
The article goes on to mention that Neil Blair, who is both Rowling’s agent and one of the directors of Pottermore, said that between 7,000 and 9,000 new users sign up to Pottermore every day. They're just not there to buy ebooks.
The decline in ebook revenues adds more explanation to why Pottermore embarked on a major strategy shift, both overhauling the site and in distributing ebooks to other retailers.
Apple was the first to get the ebooks when enhanced editions were released in iBooks in October. This was followed a couple months later by Harry Potter audiobooks turning up in Audible and B&N Nook Audio, and then in December the unannounced release of Harry Potter ebooks in the Kindle Store and at other ebook retailers.
Pottermore distributing ebooks to other retailers puts a stake through the heart of publisher exclusivity, but it says little about the idea that publishers should maintain their own storefront and deal direct.
Chris Meadows reached that conclusion over at Teleread, and I think he went a step too far:
Another potential cause, the Scotsman suggests, is the overall decline in e-book sales, but I don’t think you can really pin a specific effect on a cause that general. And you really don’t need to—the gradual die-off in new interest is really cause enough, coupled with the way Pottermore makes it more difficult than usual for most e-book customers to obtain the e-books by dint of not being Amazon.
And, well, there you go, really. If even Harry Potter, the crown jewels of long-desired e-books, have lost their luster sufficiently that even Pottermore realized throwing in the towel and permitting retailer sales was a good idea, that seems to be the last nail in the coffin of independent single-author or single-publisher e-book stores, like Pottermore or Baen’s Webscriptions. Or at least of big ones.
That is a stretch, if you ask me.
The only idea that died here was that of a publisher retaining exclusive control, and not the idea that publishers should deal direct.
Publishers can still sell direct, but they should not pin their hopes on their store vanquishing Amazon. Instead, direct sales are just one channel among many.
Of course, with Baen continuing to sell direct via Baen eBooks while at the same time distributing to other stores, we already knew that.