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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Harry Potter eBooks Arrive!

The big news today is that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books are now available (legally) in digital form. You do have to buy thru the Pottermore shop and there are a few rough edges there still, but I purchased the bundle this morning and it was, for the most part, a smooth process to get the book into my Kindle library. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that searching in the Kindle store (or any other ebookstore) for Harry Potter will turn up a number of books about the series, some very questionable cookbooks (which use the name, but have rather pedestrian recipes) and some very funny looking parodies (such as Harry Putter and the Deathly Hairballs, by Timothy R., Griffin and Riley O'Donnell), but no actual Harry Potter books. That has changed today and you will find the Harry Potter books listed, but the purchase process is a bit different - you'll be linked to J.K. Rowling's Pottermore Shop, purchase the books and then can link your account there back to Amazon and send the book to your library (which I strongly recommend, as you'll see later).

Over at Pottermore, there are vague assurances that you'll be able to read your books on your Kindle, but not a lot of info on how the process works (or how the bundle will show up on your account), so I bit the bullet and bought the books this morning, purely as research for the blog, of course. Which means I can go cancel all my reserves at the library, too, I suppose.

If you want to read a sample of a book before buying, you won't be able to do that on your Kindle, as the samples are only supplied in EPUB format and for viewing on your computer (or you could transfer via USB to a non-Kindle reader). That means you'll need a viewer on your computer, but not Adobe ADE, as the samples have no DRM (I used the Calibre viewer).

Adding to the cart is straight forward and you can also choose to send any book to someone as a gift (all you need is an email address, but the recipient will need to create an account). So far, only the English (US and UK/GB) editions are available, with other languages promised soon, and I wonder if using the gift option would be a way for those in the US to get the UK/GB edition, as the only option I was presented with was for the US edition, or if that will updated as time goes on.

During checkout, you'll need a credit card - no American Express, so far, and no PayPal (which I'm very surprised at, especially as it would have meant fewer fees to the site, I suspect) and no sign that it will ever be allowed. You may also need to try more than one card - my Mastercard was refused, with repeated attempts (and kept displaying a weird message from the site about "added security", but never asked for my input, then just dumped me back into a "denied" message) and I think it's because it's a non-US site (I had issues with the same card with Kobo, located in Canada, but was able to get an exception created for that site; with a one-time use at Pottermore, it hardly seems worth the bother). I switched to (ironically) an Amazon Rewards Visa and the purchase went thru just fine. You are prompted to print out your receipt (one should also be emailed to you) - do that and keep it somewhere safe, as you'll need it if you ever have to request more than the allowed number of downloads.

Once purchased, you may download each book a maximum of eight times (although there is an exception in case you have lost your reader or corrupted your backups, it requires getting special intervention from Pottermore and is at their discretion). Each time you download a book, you'll need to decide if you want that copy to be sent to your Amazon Kindle account (which, you only need to do ONE time, ever, as it stays in your account and can be sent to all your devices and apps from there, as well as can be read using ReadNow), to your Sony or Google Play account (which I didn't try) or to your NOOK account (which should work about like the Kindle account, allowing downloads to all your devices and apps). You can also choose to download the book directly to your computer, for use with any EPUB reader.

What about the much-speculated about social DRM? Well, on the titles I sent to Amazon, when viewed in the Cloud Reader, it does have a spot for my name or an ID, but instead shows a long line of x's, followed by d's, and the date of purchase. Any copy you download from Amazon, though, WILL have DRM added, so will be tied to a particular Kindle device or app. I suspect the same will be true of the NOOK editions and Sony pretty much always adds Adobe ADE DRM to any book in their store and I expect the same from Google Play.

Next, I downloaded the EPUB for my computer and a personalized and DRM-free edition was prepared (be sure not to leave the page after clicking to create the file, until after the download starts, or you'll lose one of your eight downloads, but won't actually get a file; it takes about 30-45 seconds from when you click until the file download begins and that will probably get longer as the site gets busy). If the download doesn't start automatically, there is a link to download manually (which I didn't have to use) - I'd recommend leaving that page and link up and waiting until the file completely downloads, then open the book to make sure you can read it before closing the window. This ensures that you won't need to use another of your limited downloads, in case there was an error with the download (if you can't open the downloaded title, you can click on the "manual download" link and try it again, so long as you didn't close the window).

In the personalization section of the book, on the second "page", it doesn't show my name (which is what I would have preferred), but instead a long username, intended only for the purpose of detecting who set their copy into the wild, in case they find it out in the torrents or being copied to others. Couldn't they have used my name on the page and buried the ID somewhere else, turning the personalization into a positive? That would make a gift copy to a child much more likely, as they could see their name on it (otherwise, why not read mom and dad's copy?).

I pulled the copy into Calibre - the metadata is only the author name, not even the series is set. Using Download Metadata corrected that quickly (I kept the supplied cover, as it seemed better than the downloaded alternatives) and I then converted to MOBI, to get a file that can be downloaded to my Kindle or even to any older MOBI eReader (and they are still out there). There were no problems and the watermarked ID is still there on the MOBI edition (not that my copy will ever be out in the wild).

My recommendation is that you use your first download to send a copy to your existing accounts at Amazon, Google and/or Nook (not Sony, as there seems to be evidence of some stores dumping their readers from the shelves and a Sony can read the DRM-free edition anyway). This will get you repeated downloads on the device of your choice and if you use more than one of these, you are more protected against any one of them going out of business. Then, use one of your downloads to get a DRM-free copy and back it up in multiple locations (your computer, an online backup, etc). Save the rest of your downloads to be used in case you have a problem in the future, but keep in mind that the eight downloads you get from Pottermore are "subject to the continued availability of the book via the Pottermore Shop."

So, if the specialty store for these books ceases in the future (or Rowling decides to pull the books from the store for any reason), those extra downloads won't be available. In the B&N store, some people have learned that if a book is pulled there, the downloads for it disappear as well (it's happened on a number of titles that have moved to the Kindle Select program, so the authors/publishers can get the five-day free downloads and Kindle Lending Library access). At Amazon, they have publicly committed to keeping your titles available "forever" (limited by the life of the company, to be sure) and pulled titles have remained in my library (the exception, though, is with magazines, all issues of which you lose when you cancel a subscription). I don't know what Google's policy will be, but I'm hedging my bets and keeping a redownloadable copy in a couple of accounts, along with my own DRM-free backups, just in case.

Here are the individual titles at Amazon (which will link you to Pottermore); once at the Pottermore Shops, you can click on EBOOKS in the menu and pick the bundle to get all seven at once, at 10% off (and you can also get the audiobooks with the ebooks, but the price is substantially higher). At least so far, there is no link at Amazon that will take you directly to the bundle (that I can find).
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($7.99)
    In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry, an orphan, lives with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. One day just before his eleventh birthday, an owl tries to deliver a mysterious letter—the first of a sequence of events that end in Harry meeting a giant man named Hagrid. Hagrid explains Harry's history to him: When he was a baby, the Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, attacked and killed his parents in an attempt to kill Harry; but the only mark on Harry was a mysterious lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. Now he has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the headmaster is the great wizard Albus Dumbledore. Harry visits Diagon Alley to get his school supplies, especially his very own wand. To get to school, he takes the Hogwarts Express from platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross Station. On the train, he meets two fellow students who will become his closest friends: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Harry is assigned to Gryffindor House at Hogwarts, and soon becomes the youngest-ever Seeker on the House Quidditch team. He also studies Potions with Professor Severus Snape, who displays a deep and abiding dislike for Harry, and Defense Against the Dark Arts with nervous Professor Quirrell; he and his friends defeat a mountain troll, help Hagrid raise a dragon, and explore the wonderful, fascinating world of Hogwarts. But all events lead irrevocably toward a second encounter with Lord Voldemort, who seeks an object of legend known as the Sorcerer's Stone…
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ($7.99)
    In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the summer after Harry’s first year at Hogwarts has been his worst summer ever… the Dursleys more distant and horrible than ever before. But just as he’s packing his bags to return to school, a creature named Dobby the house-elf announces that if Harry goes back to Hogwarts, disaster will strike. And it turns out, Dobby is right. Harry and Ron miss the Hogwarts Express, so they fly to school in a blue Ford Anglia, crash landing in the notorious Whomping Willow. Soon other worries accumulate: the outrageously stuck-up new professor Gilderoy Lockhart; a ghost named Moaning Myrtle, who haunts the girls' bathroom; the strange behavior of Ron's little sister, Ginny Weasley; rumors about the "Chamber of Secrets," a cavern buried deep below Hogwarts; and a magical diary owned by Tom Riddle, a Hogwarts student of long ago. Harry is also shocked to discover that he can speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes - a rare ability that Lord Voldemort also possessed - and that anti-Muggle prejudice exists in the Wizarding world, even affecting Harry's friend Hermione. But all of these seem like minor concerns when someone starts turning Hogwarts students to stone: an evildoer said to be the fearsome Heir of Salazar Slytherin, on of the founders of the school. Could it be Draco Malfoy, Harry's most poisonous rival? Could it be Hagrid whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one person everyone at Hogwarts most suspects: Harry Potter himself?
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($7.99)
    For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort, and might even have assisted in the deaths of James and Lily Potter—Harry Potter’s parents. Now Black has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard him muttering in his sleep, "He’s at Hogwarts... he’s at Hogwarts." Of course, Harry already had plenty to worry about. After inflating his nasty aunt and running away on the magical Knight Bus, he finds he’s being pursued by death omens at every turn. He receives two wonderful gifts: a top-of-the-line Firebolt broomstick, and the Marauder’s Map, a magical diagram of Hogwarts made by the mysterious “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs.” Hermione disappears frequently, burdened down by a seemingly impossible course schedule. And the soulless Dementors have come to guard Hogwarts—supposedly to protect Harry from Sirius Black, but they terrify Harry more than the fugitive ever could. To strengthen himself against them, Harry reaches out to Remus Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who was once a friend of his father’s. Lupin teaches Harry about the Patronus Charm, a defensive measure well above the level of magic generally mastered by wizards Harry’s age. But even with his broom, his map, his magic, and his loyal friends, Harry isn't safe. Because on top of everything else, there’s a traitor hidden at Hogwarts…
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($9.99)
    In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is midway through both his training as a wizard and his coming of age. He wants to get away from the malicious Dursleys and go to the Quidditch World Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about his crush, Cho Chang (and maybe do more than dream). And now that he’s gotten the hang of things at Hogwarts—he hopes—he just wants to be a normal fourteen-year-old wizard. But even by his standards, Harry's year is anything but normal. First Dumbledore announces the revival of a grand competition that hasn't taken place for one hundred years: the Triwizard Tournament, where a Hogwarts champion will compete against rivals from two other schools of magic in three highly dangerous tasks. Then someone frames Harry to participate in the tournament—which really means someone wants him dead. Harry is guided through the competition by Professor Alastor Moody, this year's Defenst Against the Dark Arts teacher, but he must also contend with a nasty reporter named Rita Skeeter, who digs up some highly unflattering secrets about Hagrid; a terrible fight with Ron, who is deeply jealous of Harry's fame; Hermione's newfound activism on behalf of house-elves; and the terrifying prospect of asking a date to the Yule Ball. Worst of all, Lord Voldemort may finally have gathered the materials necessary for his rejuvenation... and he has a faithful servant at Hogwarts waiting only for a sign. No, nothing is every normal for Harry Potter. And in his case, different can be deadly.
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($9.99)
    In response to his reappearance, Dumbledore reactivates the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society which works to defeat the Dark Lord's minions and protect his targets—especially Harry Potter. But Harry doesn’t want to be protected. Even as the Ministry of Magic denies his claims, The Daily Prophet discredits him, and even Dumbledore won’t look him in the eye, Harry grows more and more determined to fight his lifelong enemy Voldemort—if only he had the “weapon” the Order is guarding. In the meantime, he visits his godfather at his ghoulish London home, Grimmauld Place, and learns more about Voldemort’s deep reach into Wizarding history and the Wizarding world. Back at Hogwarts, Harry must deal with a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey; a surprising new member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team; the possibility of his first real romance; and the looming nightmare of the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. He’s haunted by dreams of a heavy door at the end of a silent corridor, and a vision of his father and the young Severus Snape that changes everything he thought he knew about them. Even the joy of working with “Dumbledore’s Army”—a group of Soon Harry will discover the true depth and strength of his friends; their boundless loyalty and unbearable sacrifices. His fate depends on them all.
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($9.99)
    When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens, the war against Voldemort has begun. The Wizarding world has split down the middle, and as the casualties mount, the effects even spill over onto the Muggles. Dumbledore is away from Hogwarts for long periods, and the Order of the Phoenix has suffered grievous losses. And yet, as in all wars, life goes on. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, having passed their O.W.L. level exams, start on their specialist N.E.W.T. courses. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate, losing a few eyebrows in the process. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry becomes captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, while Draco Malfoy pursues his own dark ends. And classes are as fascinating and confounding as ever, as Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. Most importantly, Dumbledore and Harry work together to uncover the full and complex story of a boy once named Tom Riddle—the boy who became Lord Voldemort. Like Harry, he was the son of one Muggle-born and one Wizarding parent, raised unloved, and a speaker of Parseltongue. But the similarities end there, as the teenaged Riddle became deeply interested in the Dark objects known as Horcruxes: objects in which a wizard can hide part of his soul, if he dares splinter that soul through murder. Harry must use all the tools at his disposal to draw a final secret out of one of Riddle’s teachers, the sly Potions professor Horace Slughorn. Finally Harry and Dumbledore hold the key to the Dark Lord’s weaknesses... until a shocking reversal exposes Dumbledore’s own vulnerabilities, and casts Harry’s—and Hogwarts’s—future in shadow.
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ($9.99)
    In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the epic tale of Harry Potter, Harry and Lord Voldemort each prepare for their ultimate encounter. Voldemort takes control of the Ministry of Magic, installs Severus Snape as headmaster at Hogwarts, and sends his Death Eaters across the country to wreak havoc and find Harry. Meanwhile, Harry, Ron, and Hermione embark on a desperate quest the length and breadth of Britain, trying to locate and destroy Voldemort’s four remaining Horcruxes, the magical objects in which he has hidden parts of his broken soul. They visit the Burrow, Grimmauld Place, the Ministry, Godric’s Hollow, Malfoy Manor, Diagon Alley…But every time they solve one mystery, three more evolve—and not just about Voldemort, but about Dumbledore, and Harry’s own past, and three mysterious objects called the Deathly Hallows. The Hallows are literally things out of a children’s tale, which, if real, promise to make their possessor the “Master of Death;” and they ensnare Harry with their tantalizing claim of invulnerability. It is only after a nigh-unbearable loss that he is brought back to his true purpose, and the trio returns to Hogwarts for the final breathtaking battle between the forces of good and evil. They fight the Death Eaters alongside members of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore’s Army, the Weasley clan, and the full array of Hogwarts teachers and students. Yet everything turns upon the moment the entire series has been building up to, the same meeting with which our story began: the moment when Harry and Voldemort face each other at last.