LONDON—After years of refusing to release her boy-wizard books in electronic format, Harry Potter mastermind J.K. Rowling is finally taking the digital plunge, launching an online store that will sell Harry Potter e-books directly to consumers and a social-networking site designed to keep the Potter magic alive.
The free-to-access site, known as Pottermore, launches for the first million users on July 31 and opens to the general public—with the online e-book store—in October. Once the online store opens, the full Harry Potter series will be available as e-books in multiple languages, compatible with any electronic reading device.
Ms. Rowling has made a bold move in going direct to consumers to sell her e-books, instead of relying on online retailers like Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.’s iBookstore. Whereas publishers for other authors often own both the print and digital rights for books, Ms. Rowling owns the rights to the digital versions of the Harry Potter books herself. The digital rights aren’t held by her U.K. publisher Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, or by Scholastic Inc., which owns the U.S. print rights.
Bloomsbury said in a statement Thursday that it would be receiving a share of the revenues derived from e-book sales in Pottermore’s online store.
Pottermore is a full-on Harry Potter online universe that allows readers to join a Hogwarts house and travel through the first Harry Potter book, while collecting points and playing games. Perhaps the biggest draw is the extra material that Ms. Rowling has written and unearthed from her notes, which gives intense Potter fans much-desired background and explanations about key characters, places and plots.
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“I’ll be sharing additional information that I’ve been hoarding for years about the world of Harry Potter,” Ms. Rowling said in a Thursday press conference in London. “I can be creative in a medium that didn’t exist back in 1990 when I started writing the books.”
Ms. Rowling has built the Potter franchise into a behemoth since the first of her seven Harry Potter novels was published in 1997. The series—the final installment of which was published in 2007—has sold more than 450 million books world-wide, and spawned an eight-part film franchise for Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. that is about to wrap up. The series is also featured in “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” area at the Universal Orlando theme park. In 2010, Forbes magazine estimated Ms. Rowling’s net worth at $1 billion.
Now, Pottermore is Ms. Rowling’s next step toward keeping the franchise alive and vital beyond the book series.
Users can travel through the first book in the series—”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”—and Ms. Rowling will then gradually reveal the online ecosystem tied to the subsequent six books over the course of a few years. Digital editions for all seven books, however, will be available in October.
“I’m phenomenally lucky that I had the resources to be able to do it myself,” Ms. Rowling said Thursday. She said she can ensure that everyone is getting the same experience by interacting directly with consumers.
“There was really no other way to do that for the fans or for me than to just do it myself,” she said.
That’s one of the reasons Ms. Rowling warmed slowly to the idea of putting Potter online. But she downloaded an e-book for the first time this year and said she realized their power, ease and usefulness.
“E-books are here, and they are here to stay,” she says. “I still love a print and paper book, but I think you can enjoy both.”
Pottermore has been in the works for two years. Users will have to give their e-mail addresses to register for the Pottermore site, meaning that Ms. Rowling will theoretically be able to contact a millions-strong database of avid Harry Potter readers directly.
The site is supposed to give obsessed fans exactly what they crave: More Potter, straight from Ms. Rowling’s notebooks. Though she says she won’t be writing any more books in the boy-wizard series, Ms. Rowling is emptying her extra material in various places on the site.
For example, she says she had been keeping the back story of Professor McGonagall—headmistress of Hogwarts—for years expecting to use it, but never found a place for it in any of the books. Ms. Rowling has handed over 18,000 words of additional content so far, but says she will write more for the site as well.
Sony Corp. has served as a primary partner in building the site. Once the online store goes live in October, Sony will be selling Pottermore branded products alongside the Harry Potter e-books, a spokeswoman for Sony said. Those could include Pottermore branded Sony e-readers, as well as other Harry Potter-specific electronics or software products.