Pottermore: Harry Potter's Final Battle Will Be Digital

Article  by  Kevin PICCIAU  •  Published 04.08.2011  •  Updated 09.08.2011
Poster of HP7
[NEWS] Harry Potter’s adventures in the movie theatres are coming to an end, but are entering a new chapter in the digital world. Let’s take a look back at of one of the biggest crossmedia successes of the past decade.
July 2011 will be remembered as the time when Harry Potter made his final assault into movie theatres. And for this last appearance – in 3D, for the first time in eight movies – the famous sorcerer invented by J.K. Rowling offers an outstanding finale. One week after its release, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 brought in $640.2 million in ticket sales, with $425 million earned on the foreign market[+] NoteOutside the UK and USA.X [1]. Just three days after its official release in the United States, on July 15, the last film, directed by David Yates, already had generated $168.6 million at the box office, breaking the record held by Batman, The Dark Knight since 2008[+] Note$158 million three days after its release in the U.S.X [2].

On July 21, Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Bros. Pictures, in charge of distribution for all of the Harry Potter films, announced that the whole saga had hit the $7 billion box office mark worldwide. The most profitable film remains the first episode, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, with $974.7 million in ticket sales. With such astonishing results, the Harry Potter saga confirms its position as the most profitable franchise in the history of the film industry. Harry stole this number one spot from Star Wars in 2009, with the sixth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And it hasn’t left the first place position since.

Replica of Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter theme park,
Universal Studios, Orlando

Potter's success on the big screen is a logical next step after the literary success that writer J.K. Rowling encountered originally. The eight films marked with the letters HP (Harry Potter), released between 2001 and 2011, are based on the seven books published between 1997 and 2007 by Bloomsbury Publishing, an independent publishing house based in the UK. 450 million copies of Harry, Ron and Hermione's adventures have been sold worldwide since the beginning, all seven volumes included, according to Bloomsbury's latest estimations. Alongside box office profits are revenues from videos, DVD and Blu-Rays ($3.9 billion worldwide), video games ($1.5 billion), toys and other gadgets ($7 billion), and TV rights (channels globally have paid $1 billion to show one or several Potter episodes) – all of which has made J.K. Rowling the first billionaire writer ever. By summer 2011, her stories had generated no less than $21 billion.
From "Harry Potter, Inc: How the Boy Wizard Created a $21 Billion Business",
the Atlantic
When she launched the last book of her magical epic in 2007, J.K. Rowling explained she was putting an end to Harry's story and that this decision was firm. The writer reiterated her decision on July 7, 2011, during the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in London. But this doesn’t rule out an extremely long life for her character. Besides licensing and the last DVD to come, as well as the first Harry Potter theme park, which opened on June 18, 2010 in Orlando, the universe of Harry Potter is set to thrive in the digital sphere. In fact, J.K. Rowling announced on June 23, 2011 the upcoming launch of Pottermore, a brand new online portal dedicated to her stories.

J.K. Rowling announces the upcoming launch of Pottermore.

The website was launched in beta version on July 31, the anniversary of the day that Harry Potter was created. Only a few privileged fans – one million persons of them, to be exact – have access to the platform for the next three months. They have been chosen randomly from those who submitted their emails to www.pottermore.com. They are now able to share their opinions of the first version of the website, which will then be taken into account to improve the project. The second version of the portal should be up by October 2011, open to all.

Created in association with Sony, Pottermore is a new frame to expose Rowling's stories: for the very first time, the Harry Potter series will be offered in e-book format (both written and audio). The e-books should be available on all existing reading devices: Pottermore's CEO, Rod Henwood, declared that he was in discussions with all the big names in the sector (Apple, Google, Barnes & Noble, Kindle) in order to make the e-books "available to as many readers as possible". Up until now, Rowling – who is the one of the very few authors to hold the digital rights to their books – had been strictly against selling the Harry Potter saga online, because of the piracy threat. But the writer seems to have gained full understanding of how much is at stake with this digital opportunity.

With Pottermore, J.K. Rowling adresses a new generation of potential readers, children who weren't yet born when the first book was published. Choosing to go digital is adapting to a possibility of reading that may be predominant in the coming years, and most especially for the youngest readers. Considering how far the classic versions of the Harry Potter books have gone, in terms of readership and profit, it is not unreasonable to consider that paper books have already reached their pinnacle for Harry Potter. It is now time to take a more innovative – and riskier – path.

J.K. Rowling is surely accepting of risk, since her e-books won’t encompass anti-piracy measures like DRM[+] NoteDigital Rights Management.X [3]. She simply opted for watermarking, which links the identity of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This process doesn't prevent the work – technically speaking – from piracy. It only plays on less concrete mechanisms like dissuasion and reader responsibility. In order to renew reader interest, Rowling has already prepared 18,000 brand new words of complementary text material on Hogwarts, Mudbloods, wizards and other essential elements of the Harry Potter universe. Internet users will be able to participate actively in the construction of parallel stories, share their drawings or play games with other fans.

For this new chapter of her success story, Rowling has decided to be free. In early July 2011, the writer separated from Christopher Little, the agent who has been by her side from the beginning. Little was considered not interested enough in new technologies to continue. Distance has also been taken from the original publishers, Bloomsbury for the United Kingdom and Scholastic for the USA: Rowling is following the new tendency of self-publishing. Despite this choice of independence, Bloomsbury and Scholastic will perceive their due share on e-books, but the author will be free to set prices. She will also be able to sell single chapters if she wants to, or sell rights for time-limited use. For all of this new activity, Harry Potter will be published under the brand Pottermore Publishing. In a contribution to online review Paid Content, journalist Laura Hazard Owen projects that major players in the economy of e-books could be tempted to take inspiration from Rowling's innovative practices in terms of prices. Harry Potter has been a veritable phenomenon for classic publishing – and time will tell whether the sorcerer is defying or defining the e-book.

Further reading:
Harry Potter's income film by film

Photo and diagram credits: Poster of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 / katherinemariee / Flickr
Harry Potter theme park / littlemaiba / Flickr.
Diagram of HP Income / the Atlantic

  • 1. Outside the UK and USA.
  • 2. $158 million three days after its release in the U.S.
  • 3. Digital Rights Management.
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