Pottermore’s Potential

Originally posted at Silverstring Media.

A friend and I were just discussing JK Rowling’s Pottermore announcement from earlier today, especially in relation to this video I was pointed towards by vlogbrothers Hank and John Green:

The gist is that the announcement really said very little about what Pottermore is actually going to be. We know it’s going to be some kind of digital/online experience, that there will be more information about the story world that never made it into the books, that there will be some kind of UGC portion, and that there will be experiences like being sorted by the Sorting Hat and getting a wand. We also know that ebooks of the series will be sold exclusively at the Pottermore site.

And it seems like we know very little else.

The reaction in the above video is disappointment that we really don’t have much information, and that most of what we have is just marketing speak (while I don’t agree that watching a vlog is a ‘unique online experience’ in 2011, the point remains that to a marketer, ‘unique online experience’ could mean just about anything).

As my friend pointed out, though, in that way it was a great marketing move. It has yet to be fully launched, so they aren’t going to tell us everything about it. They want to get fans excited, want to get them speculating and anticipating–which, for fans, will be half the fun. And I don’t disagree–it’s definitely good marketing, and I can’t begrudge them that. Someone like Rowling can totally get away with this, because her fans hang on her every word.

Now don’t get me wrong, I too am a fan. Last week I decided to challenge myself to re-reading the entire book series before the last movie comes out (first three books read in six days; at 150 pages a day, I’ll make it!).

But as someone invested in the transmedia industry, my pure enthusiasm is a little bit blunted. After all, let’s look at what we know–expanded story world information, user generated content that affects the story, online community, extended story, even potentially additional content in the ebooks. Pottermore could very well be a fully-realized transmedia extension to the brand (albeit one added after the success of the initial platform rather than fully integrated–though if they’re adding content to the ebooks, it could be better integrated…). And if it is a full transmedia project, then it could very well be the kind of major project that brings transmedia storytelling into the mainstream, and that would be a win for all of us.

But we just don’t know what it will be. It could be nothing more than an online community for fanfiction, a companion book-like world encyclopedia, a couple minigames and an ebook store. (And as Simon Pulman pointed out on Twitter, it will be interesting to see what the rights agreement for UGC looks like…)

So my anticipation for Pottermore is slightly jaded. It could be all marketing speak and disappointing results, when what it has the potential to be is so much more.

Probably most of the fans will eat it up whatever it is. I just hope it exceeds expectations and does its marketing proud.

We just don’t know yet.

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