My curiosity to experience Pottermore reached a boiling point yesterday after I learned that the site was not only an interactive way to interface with the Harry Potter story but also Ms. Rowling’s coming-out party as an indie publisher of the Potter ebooks. As an indie myself, I find Rowling’s “Radiohead move” from traditional to independent distribution to be of especial interest, so I’ll be documenting my experiences with the site.
There was a moment of fear for me when the text surrounding the Sign Up button said, Before you can begin your Pottermore journey, you need to find out whether or not you are magical…” What? Would I get my hopes up, only to find out I was some mere muggle after all? Thankfully, no. When the first page after the account creation screen announced, “Congratulations! You Are Magical,” I did feel a momentary excitement seeing my name above Mr. Potter’s own. Maybe this was some grand new beginning for the Harry Potter story, and this time I’d get to slay Voldemort myself, with Harry as my loveable sidekick with the cool scar and bad temper.
Then I reached the next screen. Wait, what the hell? I had to choose from five preselected usernames? I’d just hoped to use “kingofautumn” like I do on most sites. I hadn’t intended to name my account “ButtS3KS” or something involving my social security number. And even given the preselected usernames, why isn’t there a way to see more options than the first five presented? (Even refreshing the page did nothing here.) I ended up choosing “LightSeer 16166,” trying not to think that there were probably other LightSeers before me, as many as 16165.
So I got into the main portal for the site, which I found could barely run on my netbook. (I made a long-needed memory upgrade today, and the site is running for more smoothly now.) It was on this page that I began overwhelmingly to feel what I’m sure countless other users of the site have felt: a profound disconnect between Pottermore and the Harry Potter aesthetic familiar to fans. It takes a bit of external knowledge to discern the cause of this.
As I said, Rowling is self-releasing the Potter ebooks exclusively through the site. A bit of background, as best I understand the situation: Rowling’s contracts with Scholastic and Bloomsbury were written before the Kindle and similar devices made ebooks a significant force in the market, so the publishers included no provision granting them rights to the ebook versions of the Harry Potter books. Rather than sign the rights to these books away, Rowling decided to maintain complete control over the ebooks and publish them independently. She has also made Pottermore the exclusive vendor of the books, bypassing major retailers such as Amazon.
While she has the rights of the books themselves, it appears that a lot of the art assets have been retained by the publishers—or, in the case of the assets created for the films, by Warner*. Even the ubiquitous Harry Potter font is absent from the site design, and trademark visual elements like the house insignias had been redesigned from the ground up. (Once I realized this, I was surprised to see that Rowling had even been allowed use of the original book covers for the books.) Pottermore is about creating Harry Potter experience controlled by Rowling and Rowling alone, one she can do with as she pleases in every regard. I’m not quite sure what I think of it just yet, but it’s a noble endeavor, at the very least.
*EDIT: I’d originally cited Disney as the distributor of the Harry Potter films. Oops.