The power of Potter

Harry Potter has made it to the Kindle store, but he's not playing by the rules.

Earlier than expected, the Pottermore bookstore has opened, selling e-books of the entire Harry Potter series for the first time. The bookstore is unusual in a number of ways, not least because of the in-depth involvement of the author, J.K. Rowling, in the creation of the site. Her attention to detail, as well as the enormous clout that the Potter series wields, has enabled some ground-breaking changes to be made.

First, the biggest: the books will only be available from the Pottermore website – but will still be available on the Kindle. If you go to a Harry Potter book on Amazon, you now see the familiar selection of formats: kindle, hardcover, paperback and audio CD. On the right hand side, however, where you would expect to see the "buy now" button, you instead see this:

And below the description is a new blurb:

Harry Potter Kindle books can be purchased at JK Rowling's Pottermore Shop, a third-party site. Clicking on "Buy at Pottermore" will take you to Pottermore Shop, where you will need to create a separate account. Like all Kindle books, books purchased from Pottermore are "Buy Once, Read Everywhere" and will be delivered to your Kindle or free Kindle reading apps.

When that description says "buy once, read everywhere", it means it; your £4.99 (£6.99 for the last four books) gets you a download that works on Kindles, Sony readers, and all iOS devices.

Those who buy it on a Kindle can use Amazon's automatic download feature, but on some other platforms – notably the Apple ones – it will have to be "sideloaded"; that is, the reader has to download the file and sync it with their device, like we all used to do for songs.

This is all an astonishing testament to the power that Harry Potter still wields. In order to get his books on their site, Amazon were prepared to break pretty much every rule they had set for all normal publishers. When Macmillan wanted control over how its books were priced two years ago, it ended up pulling every book in its catalogue as part of the dispute. For the sake of seven children's novels, Amazon has given unprecedented control over to Bloomsbury and Rowling.

When the retailer eventually gave in to Macmillan and allowed it to pick the prices of its books, it made the policy global. That looks unlikely to happen in this case, but it's a rare breach in their armour. How other publishers respond will be important for the future of this young medium.

Hat tip to Paid Content

More Potter: All seven books are available online now.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.