/ 1 July 2011

Harry Potter and the digital era

JK Rowling has shocked and thrilled her fans in equal measure with the revelation that her new venture, a website called Pottermore, was set to feature a wealth of new and previously unpublished material about the world of Harry Potter.

Although the author made clear that she had “no plans to write another novel”, the fresh Potter material — to be unveiled later this year — already stretches to 18?000 words about the novels’ characters, places and objects, with more to come.

Rowling’s new writings range from details of Professor McGonagall’s love for a Muggle as a young woman to how the Dursleys met (Petunia was working in an office) and from new information about Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff houses to details about wand wood. And all will be part of the interactive, free pottermore.com website.

“I had more than half of the new material already written or in note form. I literally dug some out of boxes,” said the author at a press conference recently to announce the launch of the website.

“I generated more material than ever appeared in the books. I thought ‘who would ever want to know the significance of all the different wand woods?’ … Now you can go and see. It’s such a rich experience to do it this way.”

The material will be used on the new website, a collaborative project for fans set in the Harry Potter ­universe.

A new generation

“I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new generation,” Rowling said.

“I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have. Just as I have contributed to the website, everyone else will be able to join in by submitting their own comments, drawings and other content.”

She said Pottermore had been designed as a place where fans could share the stories with friends as they journey through the site.

The website will be open to the first million users who register on July 31 — Harry’s birthday. These users will help to shape the site, whereas its full launch to all users will take place in October.

Pottermore will also sell the long-awaited e-book versions of the Harry Potter books directly to users from October, as well as digital audiobooks.

“It is my view that you can’t hold back progress. E-books are here to stay. Personally I love print and paper [but] very, very recently, for the first time, I downloaded an e-book and it is miraculous for travel and for children.

Digital magic
“So I feel great about taking Harry Potter into this new medium. We knew there was a big demand for e-books, but if it was going to be done we wanted it to be more than that … I wanted to pull it back to reading, to the literary experience, the story experience, and this is what emerged.”

Although Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury, will receive a share of revenues from the e-books, the ­digital editions, which will be compatible with all devices, will only be sold from the Pottermore website, thus cutting out other booksellers such as Amazon.

“It means we can guarantee ­people everywhere are getting the same experience,” said Rowling, who admitted it was “a little ­frightening” how easily she slipped back into ­writing about Potter.

“It’s exactly like an ex-boyfriend … I’ve never cried for a man as I cried for Harry Potter. Now we’re ­casually dating and we have been for two years.”

The author, who has sold 450-­million copies of the Harry Potter books worldwide, said she still received a “huge” amount of fan mail — “drawings, stories, ideas, suggestions I write prequels and sequels”, so she felt the site was “a really great way to give back to the Harry Potter readership”.