With the launch of her Pottermore website, has JK Rowling turned her back on the institutions that have been so supportive of her over the last few years, namely bookshops?
Rowling has stated that her Pottermore project will be an interactive website where fans can “share, participate, and rediscover” the adventures of Harry and his friends, in what she describes as “an online reading experience unlike any other.” But where does that online reading experience leave the thousands of booksellers up and down the country who helped turn the Potter series into a publishing phenomenon? These are the booksellers who opened at midnight, dressed up as witches and wizards, and sold barrow-loads of books, swelling the coffers of Rowling and her publisher, Bloomsbury.
Since the launch of the Kindle and other ereaders, I’ve often thought that it would take a big publishing event to push these devices further into the mainstream. Just as the Coronation in 1953 helped to boost sales of televisions in the UK, will the clamour for digital-only Potter-product push the sales of ereaders up to the next level?
Perhaps I’m thinking too much like a 40-year-old about all of this, when I should be thinking like someone half my age. If the average Harry Potter reader was eight when the first book in the series was published in 1997, that same reader would be 22 by now. They would have grown up with the internet, be used to smartphones, and would most likely expect a sizable degree of interactivity in their leisure activities. Many of them will have younger siblings, who will have had the printed books passed down to them, and now they’ll be ready for new story-lines, new features and new ways to consume them. Will they kick books to the curb and demand interactivity in everything they read? I guess we’ll find out in October.
The bigger picture here is that without an easy, cost-effective way to offer digital Potter-product, high-street bookshops will, for the first time, be left out of the rush. There’ll be no dressing as wizards to promote this slice of Potter, and no queue down the high-street to buy it.