The other day in the New Republic Esther Breger proclaimed J.K Rowling’s latest short story, the first glimpse she has given us of Harry Potter since the publication of Deathly Hallows seven summers ago, a “marketing scam.” This is utterly to misunderstand what savvy authors of fiction are trying to do today in building digital platforms for their writing.
Yes, Rowling has proved that she has a keen marketing sense. Anyone smart enough to retain the digital rights to her books, as she did, deserves an A-double-plus in 21st-century Digital Publishing. But what Berger fails to appreciate is the way in which Rowling’s story–a vignette, really, written from the point of view of gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, about the reunion of members of Dumbledore’s Army at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup–is part of an entire world that Rowling has been building now for at least two years on Pottermore, an immersive, RPG (role-playing game) experience for Potter fans. Rowling has written a good deal of other original material for Pottermore in the past couple of years. The story she published the other day is unique only in that Harry Potter himself features in it. And sure, Rowling looked to exploit as much as possible the buzz such a story would create. But that doesn’t make the story a “marketing scam.” This new story is not an isolated scrap of meat intended to stir the blood of Potter fans and get them to buy more Potter-themed stuff (again, not that selling stuff is not part of Rowling’s equation). It is, rather, one more entry in a much larger online experience.
Pottermore, in fact, sets the gold standard, at least in the children’s market, for digital platforms for writers. Drawing one’s audience deeper into one’s fictional world with short pieces, if only vignettes and backstory, is a key strategy that authors are using both to develop their worlds and meet the demands of their audience. This isn’t scamming anybody; this is actually a fun and useful way to write and to engage with one’s readers.
Any author, traditionally or self-published, should take Pottermore as a master class in how to build a 21st-century digital platform. Those looking for a more introductory lesson should go here.
The image above is reproduced courtesy of Pottermore.