Pottermore.com: “Safe, Unique, Online Reading Experience”

The Three High Points as I see it with first thought commentaries from the Hogwarts Professors:

(1) “The Experience of Reading”

Ms. Rowling gives as her premise to the Pottermore venture this thought about what reading is: “Just as the experience of reading requires that the imaginations of the author and reader work together to create the story, so Pottermore will be built in part by you the reader.” For a given or premise of an argument, this is rather a radical thought.

The author here is asserting what is at once obvious and yet forgotten as often as not, namely, that stories are not ‘done’ when the author has finished writing them but when the reader enters into them. She offers this not as a completion of any story’s arc as a consumable product (the apple isn’t really an apple until it is eaten, a sneaker a sneaker until it is worn, etc.) but as the reader’s being part of the creative process, of a shared imaginative experience. This is Coleridgean epistemology, I think, at base, and reflects something greater than “reader response” theory, which, dumbed down, allows that the reader creates the meaning of any book through what each one brings to their reading. I doubt very much that Ms. Rowling is arguing that, because Pottermore doesn’t seem to be the latest fan-fiction experience but a non-local place where readers can gather to share the experience chiefly created by the author.

Hence, she says, ” The digital generation will be able to enjoy a safe, unique online reading experience built around the Harry Potter books. Pottermore will be the place where fans of any age can share, participate in, and re-discover the stories.”

(2) Point of Purchase

Much more mundane, there is the marketing and money engine that will fund the thing. Ms. Rowling, to her credit, I think, is not just dumping the books on an online venue like Amazon or B&N’s Nook, but is giving something extra.

“It will also be the exclusive place to purchase the digital audio books and for the first time ebooks of the Harry Potter series…. Pottermore is open to everyone from October but a lucky few can enter early and help shape the experience. I hope to see you soon.”

So, we have a three stage roll-out around key Potter dates. I assume, from her opening comments about how many years its been since Philosopher’s Stone was published, that 23 June is the anniversary of that event. 31 July is her birthday and Harry’s and we will learn then how the “lucky few” will be chosen (one hopes in less challenging fashion than a St. Crispin’s Day tournament). October will be the opening for hoi polloi (“the unlucky many”?), I assume again, not on Halloween, the anniversary of the murder of Harry’s parents, but much earlier in the month to insure a two month lead for Christmas purchases.

It could have been much, much worse, if I find the staged roll-out with Willy Wonka selection of an elite or favored set of readers patronizing and self-important. “Oh. to be invited into The Presence!” We’re a long way from the universal, shared imaginative experience.

(3) The Question of Canon

“I’ll be joining in, too, because I will be sharing additional information I’ve been holding on to for years about the world of Harry Potter.”

I think this last, offered almost as an afterthought, will be the reason most serious readers check into Pottermore come October. And I expect the question of the relationship of these “world of Harry Potter” revelations to the canon seven books will be re-opened. In a single question, will this be a Hogwarts Silmarillion of sorts or just more addenda, as with the schoolbooks and the fascinating Tales of Beedle the Bard? Defining context or curious but not essential story additions? On this we’ll have to wait and see.

First thoughts from the Hogwarts Professors —

John Patrick Pazdziora writes from Scotland:

J. K. Rowling seems to have embraced the digital era. Look at Twitter. She’s moved from her last tweet way back in February, insisting that ‘pen and paper are STILL my priority at the moment’, to her tweet today, giving us a hyperlink to her video on YouTube, and a link to the tantalising @pottermore.

First, Rowling says that the site is a ‘safe, unique, online reading experience […] where fans of any age can share, participate in, and rediscover the stories’. Pottermore sounds as if it will be tightly moderated, and Rowling has made it very clear that she’s not simply appealing to twee readers with iPads. The emphasis is ultimately, and rightly, on the texts, the stories—it’s meant as rediscovery, not reinvention. Technology aside, the books are still paramount.

Second, Rowling is keeping a tight control over the ebooks and the audiobooks; this is, she says, ‘the exclusive place to purchase’ the series in non-paper formats. The relation of the author to the ebooks and other electronic formats is a sharply contested battlefield in the publishing industry right now, with rights, copyrights, editions, and royalties all swirling in the balance. Rowling appears to be taking a strong, even implacable, stance on the author’s side of this debate—the author retains full control, and, I suspect, a lion’s share of royalties. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects contours of the debate.

So this is Harry Potter 2.0; the franchise is getting a new lease on life, just when we were ready to lament its demise. Jump over to @pottermore, and some poor soul is having to apologize to millions of fans for technical difficulties at the website. We have seen the future, and it’s not a defect, it’s a feature…

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy checks in from North Carolina:

So, the veil is finally lifted off Pottermore, which won’t actually do anything much for months. Still, it is nice to know what the thing actually is. It looks like the site will take the best of Rowling’s old site and add really cool upgraded technology. I am excited about the new content and background material Rowling will provide, as that has always been my favorite part of her original site. While I enjoyed clicking on objects to make things happen, I was less motivated by the game aspect than by the informational one. Both elements appear to be strong components of the new site. While I really don’t much care about having a wand, I really do want more peeks at Rowling’s famous notebooks (the main reason I jumped through hoops on the old site was to get glimpses).

Of course, it looks beautiful and technologically impressive, but what has impressed me most is the security troll level. The security around the release of the new books always seemed fun and good-natured, protecting the experience for everyone. The people who wanted to sneak stuff seemed liked killjoys, like the people who leaked the news about the surprise party or told people what their Christmas gifts were. The control level on this site, however, seems less “let’s keep it fresh for everybody” and more “don’t touch our stuff.” The much-hoped-for e-books will be available here, and only here. The “team” seems to be a coalition of lawyers and other handlers. Though the concept of the site is fun, the approach doesn’t seem fun. The whimsy and light spirit of the old webpage may come through after the official opening; right now, this looks more like Durmstrang than Hogwarts to me.

We look forward to reading your thoughts on my three points and JPP & EBH’s ideas, which I hope you will refer to by name or number so we can all follow what is on your mind.


  1. Shame on me – I forgot about it until just now and so the site is overwhelmed and can’t accept my e-mail address at this time. I’m guessing that means I won’t be in the running for being one who is chosen for early entry on July 31.

    So instead I tried clicking around the desk – there are some interesting things there that I would guess will later lead to other pages like the old site. I always liked that part, though I agree that I was more interested in content than games. I generally found it very annoying to have to play a game to get to the content (the opening of the door, for instance).

    But I am fairly happy to hear that the site is going to be more about rediscovering the books and going further than just a site for gaming.

    I’m also excited that she is going to allow e-books, though it probably won’t do me any good. I have a Nook and since the site is connected to Sony, it’s likely that the e-books will only be for those with a Sony reader and I’m not going to get suckered into that. That’s one of the reasons Terry (hubby) has refused to buy Sony – they are proprietary and aren’t compatible with anything but Sony products. (It’s also the reason I don’t want an iPod – I like having something that works with more than one thing.) And as for the audio books – I already have the full set read by Stephen Fry and listen to them on my mp3 player all the time.

  2. Actually, I believe she said the ebooks will be open source, meaning they’ll be readable on any device. 🙂

  3. I agree with HG – the books will most likely be open source or multi-format — although if they’re not going to sell through Amazon, for example, you’d have to transfer from your computer to your e-reader via a cable (rather than Amazon’s Whispernet, which, despite being told by Amazon most likely wouldn’t work in Moscow, actually allowed me to download a book [i]while deep underground in the metro![/i]).

    As for the thing itself – I would like to think at 25 I’m part of the Digital Generation but I don’t know what I’ll do with this. Aside from starting law school (and therefore not having time for, well, anything, probably not even breathing), what’s it for? I love reading; I have since a great children’s novel, [i]The Phantom Tollbooth[/i] showed me what a mind and imagination could do with a book– and moreso, what a book could do with them.

    That said, I’ll probably watch the video at least a few times, because I absolutely love the animation.

  4. Oh, hang on – okay so it’s her adding background. Don’t forsee myself reading it all but maybe some. I found a link on the BBC of an interview with her about it for those interested: Post-Pottermore Interview.


  5. Great find, Nzie! I hope to see you at Leaky Con 2 in Orlando — meeting you in Boston for the first edition was a blast.

    About that BBC interview, I found two things of note:

    First, she said she’d been working on it for over two years. That puts us back in the time frame of her copyright law suit against the publishers of Steve Vander Ark’s Lexicon. She either came up with Pottermore consequent to that suit or, I think more likely, she was already playing a long game to protect her franchise, laying down lines, demonstrating that she would be very protective over time.

    Second, she said she sat down “with my agent” and with no others. This is her play and what helpers she brings in, she will bring in, has brought in on her terms. SONY has been mentioned in several places, but WB, Scholastic/Bloomsbury, and Amazon have not.

    Again, it looks like this is a solo act to cut out middlemen who reduce Ms. Rowling’s take in the profits to be made on eBooks, gaming, etc. About which I can only say, “good for her — just the shake-up this industry needs to accelerate the decline of publishers and retailers who do not add value to the book experience.”

  6. We learn in JK’s first words in the Post-Pottermore Interview (Thanks, Nzie!): “I don’t have another story.” No qualifiers; nothing like “I don’t have another Harry Potter story.” All the fabulous artistry John guides us to appeciate came out in service of what she called in her Harvard address, “a big idea.” I haven’t been wishing for another Harry Potter story. I’ve been hoping she’d been blessed with another big idea. I still hope that in good time it will come. As John says, “Hasten the day.”

  7. Bruce Charlton says

    I found the announcement (the above video) incomprehensible – I have no idea what is being implied!

    I was surprised to find that HP had *not* been avaiable as an e-book, presumably for reasons of profit maximization; but surely there is nothing at all special about a book being released in a downloadable format – or am I missing something?

    (I also find JK Rowling’s appearance increasingly distracting. I don’t think it is a trivial matter. That she chooses to have herself sculpted-into a progressively younger-looking woman with each passing year, seems to me prima facie evidence of unseriousness to the point of significant moral failure: the explicit embrace of that which is most superifical and despicable in commercial culture. I seriously wonder if such a person as JKR now looks-to-be could conceive and execute something as non-mainstream, profound and sincere as the HP series as written by her former natural self. But I hope I’m wrong.)

  8. Eeyore,
    I realize you posted almost a month ago, but I had to comment on your post. I have a Sony Pocket Edition and I chose it specifically because it uses the EPUB format as well as Adobe .pdf. It is the Kindle and Nook that are proprietary, not Sony. If you have a device that accepts those formats, you can purchase from the Sony store. As a matter of fact, the Sony E-Readers can download EPUB books from online public libraries. Google books are also in EPUB format. I also found a free downloadable program that removes the DRM from NookBooks (not sure about Kindle books yet) and converts them to EPUB. Since I use my E-Reader almost exclusively for pleasure reading, it doesn’t matter to me that it doesn’t have Wi-Fi or some of the other bells and whistles that are available in upgraded Sony versions and the Nook and Kindle. I love my E-Reader and feel like I can find a way to download anything onto I want with a minimum of hassle. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have or clarify any of my comments if you’re interested.

  9. Kathy,

    The Nook is not content-proprietary, at least mine is not. 🙂 . It accepts .pdf quite readily and ePub as well. WiFi is standard in my low-end, first gen Nook E-Ink.

    Enjoy your Sony, it is a fine reader.

  10. I have to admit I am torn regarding Pottermore and its relationship with Sony. Ms. Rowling has made a giant stride in bringing Harry to those who
    prefer the digital world. My congratulations and best of the best to

    Personally, her partnership with Sony is off-putting and troubling. I
    will not be supporting it with my dollars or participation.


    I have a Animal Farm full of “beefs” against Sony beginning with them
    rootkitting CDs. First they installed Trojan horse software on users’
    computers, then Sony claimed it wasn’t a problem, then they released a
    “removal” tool that was actually spyware.

    Sony also hid other code that contacted the company every time a user
    played a song. “Phoned home” so to speak.

    It was and still is a sickening display of power over privacy and Ms.
    Rowling marriage with them, imho, is unholy 🙁

  11. Alas, but I am doomed to be last in line for anything more techno than a beautifully bound book! Nevertheless, I visited *pottermore.com* today and was pleasantly surprised to be able to register my own email address for future notifications. I look forward to Jo’s Potterdom revelations.

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