This week sees the release of Jim Kay’s illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for Amazon Kindle - and this time, Harry's on the move. The £6.99 e-book (Pottermore) comes complete with a moving front cover of a flying owl and smoke billowing from the Hogwarts Express, as well as a multi-page spread of Diagon Alley "which appears to live and breathe", an animated portrait of Draco Malfoy, and a guide to trolls.
So why did the team behind the HP empire decided to invest in Kindle in Motion, the format Amazon introduced rather quietly in 2016? And what challenges did they face in the process? Here Tom Greene, group commercial director of JK Rowling's digital company Pottermore, opens up.
What are you trying to achieve with the KiM format?
The physical editions of the Illustrated Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone have been a huge success and are loved by fans. The challenge for us in creating the e-book version was how to use the e-book format to create an experience that is just as magical in digital format as the physical editions are in print. We wanted to do justice to Jim Kay’s illustrations and our task was to create the same feeling of wonder for those fans reading digitally on screens that are much smaller than the size of the hardback.
Over time we felt that we could use animation to bring the digital experience to life. We began to work on a prototype with the Kindle in Motion team around a year ago and as soon as we saw the early versions of the work we knew we were about to create something that met all the challenges we had identified. We are thrilled with the final product.
Practically, what were the challenges? Did you need new artwork and so on?
Converting the print book into a digital format was the straight-forward part and there are so many beautiful illustrations in the original editions that there was no need for additional artwork. The real challenge was how to use animation to complement Jim’s existing artwork but without distracting the reader from the story. We did not want to animate for the sake of it.
We established a set of rules early on to help us decide which illustrations to animate. We would only animate an illustration if it contained something the reader would expect to move, something magical and, most importantly, if we thought we could add something special. Jim’s artwork is so dynamic that sometimes it was best left untouched but in other cases we feel that we have complemented it beautifully with animation.
How successful were you? And how will future iterations build on what you have learned?
Simply put, the outcome has exceeded our expectations. Readers are going to be delighted with the experience and what we have managed to achieve. We have pushed the boundaries of what is possible for this format. The technology is evolving all the time so I’m excited about what we could do in the future and what it means for readers of e-books.
Print is a strong part of the overall experience of reading the illustrated Harry Potter novels, which are big and lavish. How well do you think they transfer to reading on phones?
This was our no.1 challenge. There will always be readers who prefer the print experience and we recognise the appeal of Bloomsbury’s print editions - I have one! The key for us was to make the most of our format and to challenge ourselves to produce an experience that was comparable in quality to the experience of reading the physical editions.
One of the ways we tested ourselves on this was to take the most complex of Jim’s illustrations and see whether they would work on multiple devices. We decided early on that Diagon Alley, which is spread across four pages in the print editions, would be one of the toughest challenges. In our digital edition, we have ended up with five sequential pages of connected animations that share the pages with text. The team put a lot of thought into creating a version of this that works across all devices, regardless of user settings for font sizes, and without interrupting the reading experience. Whether a customer is reading on their smartphone or tablet, in large print or small, they will still be able to experience the full Diagon Alley as they read. Once we had cracked this we were quite confident for the rest of the book.
You’ve done standalone digital stories, enhanced editions and now the KiM versions: where might you go next as a digital publisher?
Digital innovation is part of Pottermore. As a digital-only publisher we are always looking to take advantage of the formats available to us. That extends across both digital book publishing and audio products too. We have had a lot of success with our Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts audiobooks. So, watch this space! In the short term, we’re looking forward to fans experiencing the Kindle in Motion product and in October we are releasing digital publishing to support the British Library ‘History of Magic’ exhibition.