Pottermore readies radical relaunch

Pottermore readies radical relaunch

Pottermore, the website built to extend the Harry Potter brand online and sell e-book editions of the original seven titles, is to be relaunched with a radical new design and approach. The new mobile-first version will drop the gaming elements, focus on its core audience of young adults, and allow its content to be indexed by search engines.

The overhaul, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, has been led by Susan Jurevics who joined as Pottermore c.e.o. almost two years ago. The move sees the website shift its focus away from introducing new readers to the brand, to “delighting” those users who have grown up with the books and who now wish to explore more facets of the growing franchise.

Jurevics said the changes had been driven by identifying the core users of the site, how technology had developed since its original launch (in April 2012), and the need to reflect that the Harry Potter universe is no longer confined to the original seven books. A stage play is currently under development, and the first of three new films, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, is to be released next year.

Jurevics said Pottermore also needed to give author J K Rowling a more accessible platform on which to showcase her new writing about the world. The relaunched site will feature a new logo, written in Rowling’s own handwriting (pictured).

Jurevics told The Bookseller: “When Pottermore first started, it was positioned for the next generation of readers, and that next generation was almost by default tagged to be children. So the current site gamified the content, making it very simplistic in terms of collecting things and casting spells. That was appropriate for children, but that wasn’t actually the core audience.” Jurevics said that the user base was “overwhelmingly young adult and female”, something she discovered “pretty quickly” once she joined the firm in October 2013 from Sony, where she was senior vice-president, responsible for the company’s marketing.

The relaunch also reflected technological advancements in the way users now access content sites, Jurevics said: “From a technology point of view, when Pottermore was designed and conceived the iPad had not yet been launched, and the population didn’t yet sleep with their phones on. The current Pottermore is really a laptop or desktop experience and that type of usage is going away.”The new site will be smartphone-first to reflect this “fundamental change in user behaviour”, with content designed for touchscreens and swiping.

Perhaps the most significant shift is the removal of the central concept behind the original site, which required users to become students of a virtual Hogwarts in order to progress through the books and experience the site. Jurevics said the change reflected the way the Harry Potter series had now evolved outside of the core seven books.

She said: “[J K Rowling] finds these corollaries in the real world and evolves the magical world through a lot of the new writing, for example when she created the Quidditch World Cup.

But in the very linear narrative—focused on the books—that we had, there was no place for that. She can now write content that is about the wider wizarding world, but is not anchored to books one to seven.”

Pottermore now employs 35 people. Jurevics said the business had to continue the process of releasing the Harry Potter books sequentially online, as well as planning for the relaunch with a new team. “We are respectful of what was built in the past, it was revolutionary. But we’ve had to change everything to address those key points [of who the users are and how they access the web], so the skill sets are different and some of the employees are different. You don’t change this overnight.” In January Pottermore appointed former Penguin m.d. of digital Anna Rafferty as director of product, creative and content; she had previously been working with the company as a consultant.

Rafferty said: “We are opening up all that content—this world is expanding and we want people to have access to all of that, whether they are superfans or not. It is no longer a linear experience. It’s not a book. You don’t read a website from the home page to chapter one to chapter two, and we needed to reflect that. There are going to be hundreds of thousands of landing pages. It’s an immersive world, but one you can rummage around in.” Rafferty said the new site would feature three times as much fresh content as that sourced from the books.

For the first time, the site’s content will be made available to search engines and indexed, with additional content derived from numerous sources including filmmaker Warner Bros and other franchisees. Rafferty said the company was also “working closely” with original publisher Bloomsbury, which in October will release the first fully illustrated edition of the Harry Potter series, with drawings by Jim Kay. Pottermore will now provide greater opportunities for other franchisees to market their own Harry Potter-related content, Jurevics stated. Pottermore will also have its own editorial team, led by Rafferty, in order to establish Pottermore as what she described as “the digital heart of the wizarding world”, with content “shareable and listicle”. There will also be greater opportunities for Rowling to add more content more visibly. Rafferty said: “We want to give [the fans] more and we are now able to get this to them faster. It will become a real hub of information—and the authentic heart.”

Jurevics said the Pottermore team were conscious of the timing of the switch, with a small audience very devoted to the gaming elements within the current site. “We are working through this, but it is not an arbitrary decision. We have very carefully architected what we are doing. We won’t please every single user out there, but we are making sure we are transparent and communicating.”

A note to fans issued by Pottermore in early September revealed that “part one” of the site was closing, and offered until 16th September a printable personalised Pottermore certificate.

All seven titles have now been made available through Pottermore, and Jurevics said it was the natural time to bring this current version to a conclusion. She said: “It was important to get all seven stories onto the current site, so really we think it is the end of that concept: we needed the current user base to complete this conceit. There are a small few who will want to retain the role-playing, immersive environment but frankly there are a mass of niche Potter communities where they can do that.”

Pottermore will continue to sell the Harry Potter e-books and digital audio downloads, but Jurevics signalled that this area of the site was also under development. She said: “There is a commercial aspect to the wider business. Pottermore will have a shop and it will for a short period of time look the same as it does today.” However, she stressed that the main Pottermore website will continue to be free to view and use.

Jurevics is to keynote at this year's FutureBook Conference. For more details visit the FutureBook 2015 Conference website.

Images from the new Pottermore