[Correction 6/24]: Updated to note that the writer of Transmythology blog is Simon Pulman, not Henry Jenkins, an expert in participatory culture, Harry Potter’s fan fictions sites, and their role in fostering learning and social justice.
Within days of announcing the new Harry Potter website, Pottermore, the “official counterpart” to the wildly popular book series’ fan fiction sites has more than 125,000 followers on Twitter and more than 3,700 likes on Facebook.
Why the frenzy when so many other fan fiction sites — more than 1 million — are already devoted to the wizard fantasy? Some ideas:
- Pottermore will be the first place where readers can buy digital versions of the book.
- New, unpublished material by J.K. Rowling herself will be on the site.
- Savvy marketers are building up anticipation by announcing the site’s existence three months before its launch.
With all this, who wouldn’t be excited?
But I suspect that behind all the marketing wizardry, one of the main reasons for the excitement stems from the fact that fans will get to interact with Rowling, the original creator of the series.
“Without her presence, the whole endeavor would be instantly dismissed by fans as unofficial, inauthentic and perhaps even a little cynical,” writes Simon Pulman, an entertainment brand developer on his blog Transmythology.
But in order to breathe genuine life into Pottermore, it will have to mirror the fervor of unofficial fan sites — without the slick marketing ploys of the big moneymakers, Pulman writes.
The biggest struggle will lie with avoiding the ultimate fate of most “official” fan communities. Because IP [intellectual property] owners are used to working in release cycles and focusing on return on investment, official communities tend to be focused around major releases. They launch with fanfare and users migrate to check out the initial content… before gradually returning to the fan sites from whence they came, frustrated by lack of updates and more oppressive monitoring of what they can say and do.
In order to succeed as a community, Pottermore will have to be more like Facebook than the typical movie website. It needs to focus on nurturing a community in the long run, and it must maintain momentum after the initial hype and ebook sales have died down. Fans, within reason, should not feel restricted or censored. Moreover, it cannot let its competitive advantage – direct contact with Rowling – lapse. While Rowling should maintain a degree of distance and mystery, she must pop up now and again at unexpected times to keep the community energized. New story content needs to be released incrementally and, ideally, should be substantial.
And like unofficial fan sites, those who run Pottermore will have to be involved constantly, nurturing discussions and keeping interest alive. “It’s a genuine challenge,” Pulman writes.
But if Pottermore is able to pull it off, what then will happen to all those unofficial Harry Potter fan fiction sites?
Here’s Rowling announcing Pottermore: