Ostensibly ‘giving something back’, the new interactive site is also a perfectly positioned platform to sell millions of ebooks.
Imagine, if you will, the perfect 21st-century marketing campaign. First, you’d probably want to start with a teaser. Perhaps a little clue somewhere that will lead people to a branded “coming soon” webpage that will attract 100,000s of Twitter followers within hours. A day or so later, you’d tell a story guaranteeing you blanket press coverage surrounding your product. You’d want to use that free advertising to direct millions of people to your own corner of the web, where you would extract their email address and build up their sense of anticipation and excitement by telling them that something “unique” will be happening there soon. This unique thing will then enable you to tease out further demographic details from the website’s visitors. You will also be able to flood them with information about a brand new and reasonably priced range of products which cost you next to nothing to produce and which will garner you (at a rough estimate) several gazillion pounds sterling. On the way, you’ll also be able to slip in some advertising for the products you already have out on the market, not to mention reminding everyone that (as luck has it) you also have a film coming out in a month too. Yes, Pottermore.com is a stroke of genius.
Once again, JK Rowling and her marketing team have left the rest of the publishing world standing while she blazes a trail into the record books. I’ll eat my hardback copy of The Deathly Hallows if the Harry Potters aren’t the fastest-selling ebooks in history by the end of this year – and I can only tip my hat in admiration.
First, there’s the simplicity and brilliance of the marketing campaign outlined above. Then, there is the clever way the Rowling machine has ensured fans new and old will want to visit the new, ebook-selling platform by offering them what sounds like a genuinely enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Is there a Harry Potter devotee anywhere who isn’t just a little curious about advertised nuggets such as the story of “Professor McGonagall’s love for a Muggle as a young woman” or how Mr and Mrs Dursley met? What Potter fan wouldn’t want to answer a Rowling-devised questionnaire to sort them into the relevant wizarding house, or go through the process of finding the right wand? It’s also easy to imagine that millions (and I don’t use that figure loosely) will want to add their own contributions to the site. It promises to be an excellent interactive experience – just the sort of thing to give you a warm glow and put you in the right frame of mind to start buying.
The significance of the way in which these ebooks are being sold, meanwhile, cannot be overstated. Pottermore.com has allowed Rowling to neatly sidestep the middle man (Amazon), maintain complete control over pricing, scoop up nearly all the profits from royalties, and keep all the sales information and the further marketing opportunities that offers to herself. She will also more than likely do all of that at a price and quality that will leave her customers almost as delighted as her publishers (who remain on board) and her accountants. She’s even found a neat solution to the problem of copyright theft by using a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to an individual ebook. There will be none of the sour taste and technical glitches associated with DRM software, and no punitive lawsuits – but there will be a real inducement to actually buy the book and an added element of shame for all who steal it. Wired magazine has called this “publishing’s Radiohead moment”. But it’s more than that. It’s publishing’s new Harry Potter moment. The Hogwarts’ Express money train is riding back into town.
The most impressive thing of all, though, is the way Rowling has managed to present the whole thing as an act of altruism. “I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new generation,” she says. This isn’t necessarily hogwash: at this stage in her fantastically lucrative career, money presumably isn’t the driving force for Rowling and there’s every chance that she does love the fans who have made her so successful. Yes, it would be refreshing if she just admitted she was once again going to bewitch parents and children alike into emptying out their pockets. It also would be quite pleasing if she were to openly celebrate the fact that she has one of the finest marketing teams on the planet behind her. But to do so would be bad marketing. Everyone knows the most important rule of selling is to convince the sucker who’s paying that you’re doing them a favour …
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