In just two weeks, the new interactive site has attracted more than 1 billion page impressions from 7 million unique visitors; almost 1/2 of the visitors have 'enrolled' as pupils.
Hogwarts, the wizarding school at the centre of the Harry Potter books, can now count 3 million virtual pupils among its numbers after fans rushed to sign up to creator JK Rowling‘s latest venture Pottermore.
After its initial launch date of last October slipped and slipped, Pottermore eventually went live to all on the morning of 14 April. Over the next two weeks, the site’s chief executive Charlie Redmayne said it received 22m visits from 7m unique users, and over a billion page impressions, with the average user staying on the site for 25 minutes, and visiting 47 pages.
“In the first couple of weeks about 5 million pupils signed up. As they go through the site they get sorted [into one of Hogwarts' four houses], so not all the 5 million get all the way through. It’s around 3 million who have signed up for houses,” said Redmayne. “We had a big boost when we first went live, and now we’re running at a level which is still very significant, of about 40-60m page impressions a day. It’s tailed off to an extent but it’s still an enormous run rate, and that’s just book one.”
Pottermore is a digital way in to the Harry Potter books, offering users the chance to join a house, cast spells, fight duels and journey through the world of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In its first two weeks, said Redmayne, 4.2m potions were attempted by fans and 39.9m wizard duels fought, with the most popular spell the Full Body Bind. “The least popular was the Pimple Jinx,” he said. “I thought it would be more popular but there were only 800,000 cast.”
Fans have complained about the long wait for Pottermore to go fully live, about its community aspect – all comments are pre-moderated so chat can be slow – and about a lack of new material.
“Most websites when they go live get a few hits on day one, and it builds and builds. The problem with Harry Potter was it has such a massive following, if you put something live you get millions of people on the first day. So that from a platform perspective is very challenging. We had to make sure we built a very robust and scalable platform,” said Redmayne about the delay. He was made chief executive of Pottermore last November, having previously been chief digital officer at HarperCollins. “I think the team before me were slightly hoisted by their own success.”
Redmayne also acknowledged issues with Pottermore’s community and promised change – although everything will continue to be moderated. “The community elements are too restrictive at the moment and we will be easing them up. Within a community, you need to be able to communicate,” he said. “In the next few weeks we will enable people to communicate more, but to do so in a completely safe environment.”
The site will also become more interactive, he promised, revealing that work is currently underway on launching the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. “It won’t be the next couple of weeks but we’re working to get it live as soon as possible,” he said. “What is going to become a given is that there will be a lot more interaction added. When book two goes online – and we’re working on that at the moment – it will be a real step up from the stuff in book one. There’ll be more from Jo, and more interactivity. And we will grow this over the seven books – you will see it becoming a broader and broader and richer and richer experience,” he said.
But Redmayne insisted that what Pottermore is not going to be is a virtual world. “We are not creating a virtual world. What we are creating is a web experience, where we can show more of the world of Harry Potter. When Jo wrote the books she created a very broad and rich world with very complex logic and characters and history. And actually the books and films are quite a narrow corridor through the world. This is about Jo trying to show more of that world to fans, through back story,” he said. “This is a journey through the books which shows a huge wealth of extra content from Jo, but we are also very focused on building a web proposition which is more than that – we’re not there yet. It’s not just a journey through the books and when you’re done, you’re done, but actually an interactive community. [And] we want to be adding content all the time.”
Game designer and author Dave Morris called Pottermore a “deep and broad” experience, which has shown that “bookselling is changing and community really does matter. Publishers need to get what is going on here.”
Looking at the site as a game designer, he “could think of ways to make it a simpler experience, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the ‘right’ way to design it,” said Morris. “It looks like they are aiming for the core of highly committed followers to work out how to unlock much of the additional content, then for that info to disseminate through the community to the more casual followers. That kind of ‘complexity funnel’ is pretty smart when you know you already have millions of followers, but if publishers copy it for new series at launch then they will come a cropper.”
The majority of Pottermore’s users are “younger readers, and hardcore Harry Potter fans in their teens and 20s,” said Redmayne. The Potter ebooks, meanwhile, have an older audience. Over £3m of digital Harry Potter titles have been sold in their first month on sale – a figure Redmayne didn’t anticipate reaching until the autumn – with £1m-worth sold in the just the first three days.
“[That's] an enormous amount of pent up demand. There was always going to be a rush as people came in. We saw a lot of people going on and buying them all. We’ve seen that falling away to an extent,” he said. Libraries, meanwhile, have experienced lists of up to 60 people queuing to take the books out, according to Redmayne.
Rowling decided to make the Potter ebooks DRM-free, because she “personally believes that if someone’s bought an ebook they ought to be able to read it on their Sony Reader, their Kindle, their iPad, their PC”, said Redmayne – and so far, piracy has not been much of an issue. “We’re going DRM-free but have put watermarks on the books which can trace individual files back to individual sales. It was very interesting. When we first went live we saw a few files go up, and then there was a real backlash,” he said. “People were going ‘really? Finally they’ve done what we asked for and you go and stick it up there? And what are you, the stupidest pirate in the world, as they’ll know who’s done it?’ And they came down again.”
The move to DRM-free ebooks has been described as ground-breaking, and Pottermore has also been hailed as extraordinary for convincing Amazon to link to Rowling’s virtual book shop, rather than selling the titles itself. “Amazon care about selection and price and want to be sure their customers have the best proposition and price,” said Redmayne. “They have been terrific partners on this. A lot has been made of it, but really Amazon saw the wisdom of it.”
The Pottermore chief executive said that in the “next few weeks” he would be announcing new partners and new platforms for the site – although not, as yet, Apple. “We’re not live with Apple. We’re having conversations with Apple, but there is no date, no agreement,” he said. “Would I like to be working with Apple? Absolutely.”