Harry Potter And The Order Of The Fees

Rupert Goodwins: JK Rowling's mammoth success has broken all records - but what if she'd adopted the tactics of the IT industry?

It's always sad to see someone fail to fulfil their potential. Take JK Rowling, whose name and face you may have noticed lately. Rumour has it she's published a book that's done rather well -- something like eight million copies sold in the past four days. Not bad going, you might think.

Yet consider this. She's only worth a piffling quarter of a billion quid -- admittedly, that's a rate of £40,000 per thousand words, which means this column would earn her a nice cottage on the Scottish Borders. But on a global scale, it's chump change. A decent franchise like Harry Potter, and she's not properly milking it. Oops, sorry, leveraging the brand for maximum ROI.

Her problem is obvious: she sells people books for a one-off price, after which the darn things belong to those who spent the money. How daft is that? Clearly, she should re-engineer her business model to extract every last pfennig from the public -- oops, sorry again. Enhance the user experience and guarantee optimal performance going forward. Forget the retro world of the book publishers: do it the IT way.

Let's take the book itself. Unless you drop it in the bath, it will do its job perfectly without any attention or maintenance for 50 years. Hopeless. Obviously it should reflect the continuing improvements in book technology brought about by massive investment in research and development, and be upgradeable. Future-proof. Is a hardback book future-proof? By no means. Individual pages should be removable, with new pages slotting in as characterisations, plot and description are improved. Of course, the added flexibility of this approach will mean that the existing pages may fall out by themselves so an annual licence fee will be necessary to enable full support for the reader. Optionally, paying a larger annual fee will get you more and better upgrades, thus giving consumers the choice they lack in the old "buy it and it's yours" model.

Now we're getting there. Of course, in order to protect the ability of the publisher to continue to invest heavily it becomes necessary to control the uses to which the book is put. Letting someone else read it over your shoulder is clearly against the licence conditions and will hinder the development of books for everyone -- Senator Orrin Hatch would like to include lasers in the book binding to burn out the retina of anyone caught behaving this badly, but that's possibly a little harsh. However, the problem must be solved somehow -- so the book will be locked to you personally, with a complex yet occasionally reliable projection system that beams the information into your face and your face alone. This will, of course, increase both the up-front cost and the ongoing licence and maintenance fees, but as this guarantees your future enjoyment of the product it is worth the investment.

Reading aloud to your children is piratical theft, and mechanisms built into the book will inform the police of any such antisocial acts. There have even been reports of illegal networks forming in educational establishments, where one reader instantly distributes the words through a wireless audio transmission system to an entire classroom of students: the RIAA will immediately confiscate the life savings of anyone who speaks or hears any words whatsoever under these circumstances. They are also actively investigating the possibility of licensing the right to read, in order to better prevent this wholesale criminality.

It would be unreasonable to expect the book to be supported for too long, as it will become uneconomical to maintain it to the high standards you expect from the latest technology. Correspondingly, after five years the publisher will abandon it: you can continue to read it until it breaks, but you won't be allowed to try and fix it yourself if it means you'll have to tamper with the security mechanism. That is illegal -- we have to protect our rights, you know. However, you are more than welcome to buy the next book at that stage. It'll do exactly what the last one did but with more colours, and you'll be able to turn the pages faster.

You may wish to consider buying other books, and of course that is your right. However, in order to protect the considerable investment of JK Rowling in developing Harry Potter, the basic innovations of a school, magic, team sports, and multiple characters interacting in an ongoing linked sequence of events, should be patented and licensed to other authors at a reasonable rate. Unauthorised use of any or all plots will be aggressively chased through the courts.

There. At a stroke, we've improved the entire book experience for all, and demonstrated how even such an apparently successful series as the Harry Potter books can be almost infinitely enhanced as revenue generators. We've also included social reforms and enhanced the ability of the law to make the book world safe for hard-working publishers and writers. Not a bad column's work. Now, where's my cottage?

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