Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling waved a welcome wand over her fan community Thursday with the announcement of a new website, Pottermore.com, the first fan site to be conceptualized and directed by the author herself.
The site will officially launch in October and will be the only place people can get the e-book version of her seven-book series, or the digital audio format. Potter fans worldwide have been rejoicing over the news that Ms. Rowling will infuse the Pottermore site with new details and background information about the Harry Potter universe. But Rowling has affirmed there will be no new novels.
So, as the eighth and final "Harry Potter" film arrives in theaters this July, and any promise of new narratives is "apperated," the question arises: Is this new site little more than a device to keep the Harry Potter money machine alive in the post-sequel era?
“We were very concerned that the site was going to be a bunch of gimmicks,” says high school senior Lily Zalon of Fairfield, Conn. She and many other Harry Potter fans arose early Thursday to view online the Rowling announcement from Britain, she says. “We are pretty happy with what it actually turned out to be,” she adds. Instead of somewhat cheesy treasure hunts and other such speculation about Pottermore that had been floating in the blogosphere, the new site looks to be a genuine gift to the fan universe, Lily says.
Rowling has promised to contribute her personal notes, as well as flesh out the deeper stories behind everyone from Hogwarts professor Minerva McGonagal to Petunia Dursley and her husband. The site will prelaunch with a million fans onboard July 31 (Harry’s birthday). Rowling will engage with this base to shape the final site before the formal launch in October. The most important detail to site watchers? All the new content from Rowling will be free.
“You could call it a cynical move if you didn’t really care about Harry Potter,” says Amy Shook, a bookkeeper from Fort Pierce, Fla., who says she and her three daughters are avid fans. While she is happy about the prospect of new Rowling-generated material, the former third-grade teacher says Rowling’s embrace of new technology with the multifaceted e-book format will bring the books alive for future generations. “If I were still in the classroom, the first thing I would do is get those e-books up on my students' computers,” she says.
The Scottish author made it clear long ago that she would not step into new technology unless she could do it on her own terms, as she noted in her announcement about Pottermore. The digital audio and e-formats of the Potter books will sell exclusively from the site, thus cutting out big retailers such as Amazon.com.
While Rowling will definitely profit, it's also clear that she hopes to guide the Harry Potter franchise for the enjoyment of future generations, say Joel Garver, a professor of philosophy at La Salle University. “Why can't it be both?” he says via e-mail. “Obviously the e-books and digital audio downloads are designed to generate revenue, but it sounds like they are only one part of a much larger, fan-based enterprise.”
Members of the organized Harry Potter fan universe – which is global and robust – suggest those who impugn the author’s motives “don’t understand the first thing about either Rowling or Harry Potter,” says Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, a Boston-based nonprofit group devoted to accentuating the social values from Rowling’s wizarding world in the real world. It has tackled issues such as world hunger.
“J.K. Rowling has turned down so many things that would have made money because it didn't jibe with what she believed in or cared about,” he says, noting that the author is surrounded by companies that owe it to their shareholders to maximize profit. “We would be naive to think anything different. But J.K. Rowling loves these books from a place deep within her heart and has communicated that so beautifully," he says. "If what she wants to do with fans aligns with something that will make money for the companies that surround her, all the better.”