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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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