Quoth J.K. Rowling, 'Pottermore'
Originally published on Fri June 17, 2011 10:46 am
When a new website appeared from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling called "Pottermore," sporting nothing but some owls and a link to a countdown clock on YouTube that, as of right now, has a little less than six days to go until she makes an "announcement," the speculation was rampant.
Of course, the creation of rampant speculation is the only reason to do something like this in the first place. The only reason to announce an upcoming announcement a week in advance is to bring on a round of heavy breathing from fans eager to know what that announcement, when it eventually comes, is going to be.
As Morning Edition mentioned today, the only thing Rowling's publicists will say is that the announcement is not a new book. In other words, "Pottermore" does not mean more Potter, at least not in the way fans might most optimistically think about it. It's important to get that out of the way, because if Rowling's fans convinced themselves that she was going to write another Harry Potter book and then she didn't, nothing else she could possibly announce could be anything other than a massive, soul-crushing disappointment to them.
It seems more plausible that Pottermore could be some kind of a reference site; an in-depth online Harry Potter experience. Rowling won a court case in 2008 against the publisher of a proposed Potter "lexicon," and part of her reasoning was that she intended at some point to write a definitive Potter encyclopedia. It's eminently sensible to suspect that "Pottermore" could be the online home of an interactive version of that encyclopedia if it's to be made available in that format. (She's said in the past that she'd donate any proceeds of an encyclopedia she created to charity, so it makes sense that it might become a free online tool rather than a book from which she took no money.) Fans have also speculated that the site could include online role-playing games, or that it could become a fan site that could compete with existing fan-operated sites (not a prospect everyone is excited about).
There are ups and downs, of course, in what you might call "frenzy marketing," in which you intentionally invite people to come up with fantastical ideas about what incredibly great thing you have up your sleeve.
Apple does it all the time. Sometimes, to masterful effect — remember iPad day? But sometimes, not so much — remember when they promised that November 16, 2010 would be a day that you'd "never forget"? And remember how it turned out that meant they had Beatles albums on iTunes? That one certainly excited some folks, but it also invited a backlash from people who felt like the availability in the iTunes store of albums that were already owned by anyone who really cared about them didn't justify the "it's so exciting we can't even tell you what it is but we promise you won't be disappointed" level of hype, and Apple might have been better off hitting the importance of that announcement a little less hard. If Pottermore doesn't turn out to be really good, that's the risk.
On the other hand, Rowling has the kind of fans who eat out of her hand happily and consciously, and they don't seem to mind being played with a little — it's very much part of the game. She's certainly gotten people to talk about the possibilities of what's to come (look, we're doing it right now!), so that's worth something.
Anticipation giveth and it taketh away, really, and Rowling knows that very well from the excitement surrounding the publication dates of her books. In a week, we'll know whether this experiment in fan torment has worked as well as intended.
Note: Regarding my incredibly terrible headline of which I am proud with the sickest part of my brain, after it occurred to me, I Googled it to see if, as I anticipated, it was in wide usage. It had not been used as a headline anywhere, so I stuck with it, but I credit The Colorado Springs Independent for having the same thought on Facebook.