Windows into the Imagination

Friday, June 24, 2011


I was going to do another Science:  Fact or Fiction feature, but something else caught my attention, and in a way, it could be a portent for things to come.

It's been on the wind for months. Rumors here. Whispers there. A conspiracy-theorists wet dream.

Another political assassination? No. It's….

With  Harry Potter: The Deathly Hollows, Part 2 waiting in the wings, the most sought after news has been details about the Potter universe. Is it truly coming to a triumphant end or will our boy wizard continue to be immortalized in yet more books? That's the burning question.

There had been buzz for months, years even, about J.K. Rowling planning more books. Sequel? Prequel? No one knew. Or rather, many people claimed to know but there was no hard evidence to substantiate any point of view.

Then, J. K. Rowling announced last week that she had a BIG announcement to make in about 6 days time. And the owls went streaking off into the stratosphere with even more rumours. People were sure she was going to announce more books.

Now, I own and have read all the Potter books, and even tried to buy them for my nifty new Kindle. Did you know that none of the Potter books are available in ebook form? It's not like J.K. Rowling needs the money by any means. But I digress…or do I?

What was the big news?

On Thursday, June 23rd, it was announced on and YouTube that J.K. Rowling is setting up a new website called Pottermore, an interactive experience to thank all her fans, including reams of previously unpublished as well as new material written specifically for the site. It will be free and is partnered with Sony and Warner Bros.

The site will officially open in October 2011, and registration will begin on Harry's birthday. For those who don't know when that is (shame on you), it is July 31st. On that day, an online challenge will be launched and the first one million lucky entrants will gain early access to the website.

Plus…it will be the exclusive source for all Harry Potter ebooks (finally!), in partnership with her publishers.

Within 36 hours of the announcement, there were over a million hits on the Pottermore website.

Now, what does this have to do with the future?

With people talking about the death of TV looming on the horizon to be replaced by internet viewing, there is a great deal.

Has anyone seen Sanctuary? It's a Canadian Sci-Fi series with Amanda Tapping that made its debut exclusively on internet with 8 free webisodes. Oh, yes, there is even a new term for it. It became so successful that the Sci-Fi channel sat up and took notice, and picked up the series for a traditional 13-episode TV season.

The show premiered on October 3, 2008 in Canada and the US, and October 6th in the UK. The pilot drew more than 3 million viewers, making it the highest rated original series opening since Eureka debuted in July 2006. As of January 2011, Sanctuary was renewed for a fourth season.

It all began as free webisodes on the internet.

Back to Pottermore

So, the internet and the media are by no means strangers. Not even distant cousins. More like honeymooners who haven't yet found the right side of the bed to sleep on.

Amazon has tried to muscle in on the publishing world, but it's success, or not, seems to be a highly guarded  secret. Yes, they have announced that Kindle books outsell print, but it's the things they do not announce that I find even more interesting. They provide a nifty service to authors, a page that tracks your sales across the country. But note that those sales numbers don't include Amazon sales. You have to go to a site like NovelRank to get up-to-the-date Amazon sales info and even then, they only track jumps in Amazon Bestsellers Rank.

Speaking of Amazon Bestsellers Rank…no one knows what they really mean other than a big jump in the number indicates that at least one book has sold.

As an author, watching the statistics can be a soul-numbing experience. At first, you are thrilled because all of a sudden your book has dropped (which is a very good thing) from the dungeon of the two millionth most popular book to the ten thousands. You imagine that more than your close circle of family and friends has discovered your book and are buying it in droves, only to realize that the jump from 2,480,592 to 176,948 means that one book has sold.

Then you get the irritating little jumps of 200 or 15. What does that mean? Have they sold 2 pages? With Amazon keeping mum about the calculations they use to determine these numbers, it's even more mysterious than the magical world of Harry Potter.

Now we come to J.K. Rowling and her big leap into the virtual fray.

This is perhaps the first big name foray into the wild world of the internet. With big publishers hiring people to troll the internet for publicity opportunities, it's clear that even they don't have a clue and are trying to sink or swim with the rest of us little fishes. They may have more money, but even that doesn't buy a map that doesn't yet exist.

It will be interesting to see how successful Rowling will be in connecting with her audience. I would hazard that she will be very successful, since she carries her own audience already and doesn't need to scrounge for one like the rest of us. But will this be a turning point? Will it set a precedent for things to come in the marriage between the media and the internet?

What I also find interesting is the statement that she is offering the ebooks in ePub format, exclusively on her own website. In conjunction with her publishers of course, but this gives her more control over her own books. She is J.K. Rowling after all, but the idea of it is…very interesting.

Many established authors have large backlists of books that are not yet in ebook format. Some have decided to release them, on their own, by-passing their publishers, some of whom don't seem to be that quick on the ball in releasing old titles. Why would they release something that will only sell a fraction of what spanking new book will sell?

Budgets are tight these days and getting tighter by the minute. It's even harder to break into the publishing world as a new author these days, unless you're George Bush or Oprah. The publishing industry has always meant taking risks, usually risks that will never recoup their costs until much later, or ever.

So, some authors are releasing their own backlists in ebook form and reaping all the rewards themselves, while some publishers are claiming that existing contracts cover ebooks, even though the contract predates the ebook format. This will be a very interesting battle to watch in the coming years because I can't see it not becoming a source of conflict. And with people like J.K. Rowling putting her foot in the door for more control over her own creative output, is this like United Artists?

For those who remember, UA was a joint venture incorporated by four of the biggest stars of that era:  Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith. Each had a 20% stake with the remaining held by their lawyer. The idea was to form a company to better control their own work as well as their futures. It is known as "the company that changed the film industry."

Does Pottermore signal a change in the way things are done in the media and publishing industries? Will it be the PR-horse that wins the race?

Stay tuned…and the exciting thing is that we get to be part of it. We will determine whether it succeeds or not, and how much. That is the power of the internet.

J.K. Rowling Press Release for Pottermore, June 23, 2011
Press Kit for Pottermore, includes exclusive pictures for the upcoming website
The YouTube announcement by J.K. Rowling

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