JK Rowling’s new website Pottermore is a shrewd move, and may usher in a golden age of fan fictionby Sam Leith / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
JK Rowling’s new website is sure to be a hit, but will it allow Harry Potter fans to contribute? Image: I.M. Bitter
I’m not proud of it, but it’s still out there somewhere—in some needle-strewn clearing in a neglected byway of the internet: my own Harry Potter story. This slice of adolescent sadism saw Dobby the house elf, overcome after receiving a parcel of socks on Christmas morning, tumble into an open fire and burn alive alongside the chestnuts.
I posted it online while preparing an article years ago, and had, truth be told, quite forgotten about it. But memories stirred when JK Rowling announced her new Harry Potter website. “Pottermore” goes live on 31st July and promises to gather fans like myself to its bosom.
The name’s great, isn’t it? When the waters eventually close over the Potter franchise—some time long after humans have abandoned Earth and set out to explore the stars—one imagines the Pottermore URL quietly redirecting visitors to a legacy site called “Dunpotterin.”
But I digress. Pottermore seems to me to be more than just a PR stunt, another flash of the petticoats from Rowling. I think it’s doing two interesting things.
The first is interesting in industry terms. One of the things publishing folk worry about in the digital age is “disintermediation,” which sounds like a spell for Death Eaters but means cutting out the middle man. Authors can disintermediate publishers by self-publishing ebooks or with print-on-demand and selling through their own websites. Publishers can disintermediate booksellers by selling to readers directly. The literary agent Andrew Wylie, who has already started publishing books himself, dreams of the day when he can disintermediate everybody else in the industry with a Dalek-like shriek of triumph.
By selling the Harry Potter ebooks exclusively through her website, JK Rowling is disintermediating Amazon. Her publishers Bloomsbury will still get a cut, which points to either great warmth of feeling or a scrupulously drafted contract. But Amazon won’t get a sniff. That’s pretty punchy. Yet she’s a big enough name that the company will probably have to suck it up (I can’t see it refusing to stock her paperbacks in protest). How it goes for her will be of great interest to writers like Dan Brown, Stephen King and James Patterson.
The second interesting thing that the website is doing is sort-of literary. It will be an open-ended resource of supplementary…