Will the Digital Harry Potter Catalyze a Self-Publishing Tsunami?

The Wall Street Journal reports that J.K Rowling, author of the mega-famous Harry Potter novels (NASDAQ:SCHL), will finally move her books to digital publishing outlets. Rowling had previously refused to release her novels on the Internet in e-book format, but has apparently come around will self-publish online versions of the books through a website currently in development. The author’s online ebook store will be released in tandem with a Harry Potter based social networking site, “Pottermore,” that reportedly, “allows readers to join a Hogwarts house and travel through the first Harry Potter book, while collecting points and playing games.” Sony (NYSE:SNE) is reportedly working with the author and her contracted publishers to develop the website.

Rowling’s move is drawing some controversy due to her decision to forego publishing through established e-book retailers such as Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iBooks. The author will likely opt to self-publish because she can afford it, Rowling is estimated to be worth over $1 billion. Harry Potter novels have sold over 450 million copies globally since the release of the first book in 1997, and inspired a high-grossing series of films from Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX), the last of which hits theaters on July 15th.

According to Rowling, “I’m phenomenally lucky that I had the resources to be able to do [publish ebooks] it myself,” the acclaimed author continued, “E-books are here, and they are here to stay. I still love a print and paper book, but I think you can enjoy both.”

Harry Potter’s long-waited move from the world of ink and print to the magical realm of digital commerce is a crucial step for the ebook industry, a component that has seen incredible growth in recent years. Ebook sales reportedly grew fourfold in 2010, and continued that trend in early 2011, with some estimates projecting that the market will reach sales of $2.7 billion by 2013, over 80% growth in the next two years. As the ebook is growing more popular, print book sales have been on the decline, with notable retailers such as Barnes and Nobles (NYSE:BKS) reporting larger losses by the quarter.