This is not new. An increasing number of authors who have the rights to their backlist are either taking those books to digital publishers who accept works that have been previously published, or they are self-publishing. Which, if you've got the money to self-publish, makes sense. Why not give those books a longer, and digital, shelf life? I think Rowling's decision will make it even more commonplace by virtue of bringing so much attention to the possibility.
Here's something else that caught my eye, from an article on Wired.com:
In a further bold move, Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform. She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identify of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn’t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user. This is similar to how iTunes is DRM-free, but embeds user account information within each file purchased.So now that this is possible, I see no reason whatsoever for any publisher to continue using DRM. No reason. But then there's also no reason for the big legacy publishers to continue to offer such low royalty rates on digital editions. And can we get rid of agency pricing while we're at it?
And while I'm asking for things that won't happen, can I get a unicorn too?
Rowling is going to get criticized, and probably already has, for trying to squeeze more money out of the golden goose of Harry Potter. I think the books should be available in digital format, legally and not pirated, and I see no reason why she should hand over control to someone else if she doesn't want to. Control, and a percentage. Self-publishing is a sticky subject with me, but this does highlight some of the issues that legacy publishers don't seem eager to address. Once again I feel quite happy to be with a digital publisher.
I already have the Potter books in paperback so I won't be buying the ebooks, but I am really happy they will be available for a new generation - a generation that will likely grow up more comfortable with ereaders than paper books.