Pottermore Fires Most of its Staff

The JK Rowling-owned fan site is having trouble competing with fan-owned sites.


Buzzfeed (“JK Rowling’s Pottermore Sacks Editorial Staff, Putting The Future Of The Fan Website In Question“):

JK Rowling’s website for die-hard Harry Potter fans — has sacked the bulk of its editorial staff, raising questions about the future of the online venture, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The popular website was launched by JK Rowling in 2012 after the final Harry Potter film was released and was originally conceived as a way for the British writer to maintain and grow the online Potter fandom.

[…]

“I think turning Pottermore into an editorial site a few years ago was a lovely idea with the potential to be great, but the execution has been disappointing,” a former Pottermore employee told BuzzFeed News.

“It’s essentially a glorified merchandise shop with some cute articles that might appeal to hardcore fans but don’t have enough of a point of difference from the rest of the internet’s writing about Harry Potter to survive.”

[…]

A source said editorial writers had struggled with writing freely about the Harry Potter universe, especially when actor Johnny Depp was cast as evil wizard Grindelwald for the Fantastic Beasts films, a decision that was controversial among Potter fans:

“Reporting from inside a franchise that so values its secrecy has been limiting because there’s so much [Pottermore] can’t say that other outlets can.

I’ve noticed the same thing with government-run sites in the national security space and with team-run sports sites, notably DallasCowboys.com: they’re typically behind the curve on reporting breaking news and truly critical commentary. Pottermore could likely survive indefinitely with its existing content. And, frankly, if it wants to have cutting-edge commentary about the various Potter franchises, they’d have an easier go of it as a curated fan site. They could almost certainly hire up the best of the existing bloggers in the space for peanuts if they wanted to go big. But they could simply aggregate the best content they’re seeing published, probably for next to nothing, or even accept pitches from outside writers paying on a per-article basis. They’d still be the one-stop shop for Potter universe content without having to pay salaries beyond a couple of editors.

FILED UNDER: Media, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. they’re typically behind the curve on reporting breaking news and truly critical commentary

    When you’re talking about a “fan site” that’s run by a sports team or similar entity that’s not surprising. Jerry Jones sure as heck isn’t going to allow critical reporting on the Cowboys on a site he runs, for example.




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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The podcasts hosted by DC.com staff can be quite critical of the coaching staff, player personnel management, and the like. But they’re certainly very respectful to “Mr. Jones.”




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  3. @James Joyner:

    Yea, that’s part of my point. I would imagine any content produced under the auspices of any other team would be similarly disinclined to criticize ownership.




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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yup. But, more problematically from a fan perspective, they’re also much less inclined to post news about free agent signings, possible cuts, and the like than, say, an Adam Schefter or even a fan-run blog covering the team.




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  5. MarkedMan says:

    My kids grew up at the height of the Harry Potter craze. Now 18 and 20 years old, I will still occasionally hear one of them will say something like “Book 3, Chapter 12, last word?” and the other will say “Hufflepuff”. But whenever I have occasion to talk to a younger kid, I ask them about Potter. There seems to be a real drop off in interest. They view it as just another big series, amongst a lot of big series out there. I suspect it will end up like Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings – steady sales punctuated by brief periods of intense interest when a new adaption is out. But the craze for the next generation will be something we don’t even know about yet.




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  6. michael reynolds says:

    I actually know a guy high up in the Pottermore hierarchy. I guess I’ll have to check in and see whether he’s still on-board there.

    FYI, Harry Potter’s success is not just about kids. There aren’t enough kids in existence to drive those kind of sales. Harry Potter has been bought and read by far more adults. Ditto Twilight and Hunger Games and Fault In Our Stars. You can sell a lot of books to YA readers, but it’s not a real hit until it breaks out into the adult readership. One of the things that’s happened more recently in YA lit is that adults are losing interest, which makes the brass ring a bit less attractive.

    I personally owe a debt to Ms. Rowling. Before Harry we all thought the length limit for YA was around 250 pages. When Harry came along my first thought was, Oh, sweet: I can write long books.




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  7. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    FYI, Harry Potter’s success is not just about kids.

    I first became aware of the Harry Potter phenomena when I heard a news blurb about a children’s book in the UK that had been reissued with a plain cover so that adults wouldn’t be embarrassed reading it on the train.




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  8. Blue Galangal says:

    @James Joyner: I think George R. R. Martin and even Anne Rice have run into similar, although less technologically-laden, issues with fans and fandom. A site that is going to attract a wide variety of people in a fandom is going to end up – better or worse – a free-for-all to some extent, and that’s what’s going to keep the fans’ interest. If they don’t feel that they can interact with it and affect it, if they’re expected to be a passive consumer, they’re going to go where they can engage (whether that is Whedonesque, Lostpedia, or the late lamented Television without Pity). As fans have grown up in an increasingly online and immediate technologically savvy fandom world, where they are affecting their own narrative, they have an increasing expectation of being able to engage with the source material. (No, this is not a discussion of copyright; this is an observation of the past 15 years and the effect of technology and the internet on popular culture and media engagement among people who have, at this point, literally grown up with online fandom.)

    To some extent, artist/author-controlled sites are going to always struggle with their “brand” versus fans’ passionate engagement with and about the source material, and that tension is extremely difficult for artists/authors to navigate.

    You can see it in the recent discussion here about political blogs and the political “fandom,” if you will: when 538 moved to the NY Times, and its fanbase lost the ability to engage with each other (and the content creator) because of the NYT commenting policy and paywall, the 538 “fandom” dissipated and – in my opinion – was a proximate cause of 538 leaving the NYT fold sooner rather than later. If you’re driven by a passionate and engaged fanbase, you can’t just assume they’ll go along with their monetization unless there’s something in it for them. For 538, it was an unusually engaged and fairly polite group of political junkies who lost the ability in the NYT move to have those deep and broad discussions in the comments section. It seems to me that both Balloon Juice and OTB have similar “fan” bases and a similar energy driving engagement with the site, although OTB’s authorial engagement is probably the best I’ve seen in terms of being able to balance that tension between artist/author and “fan [political junkie],” so to speak.




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  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    Excellent analysis. Thanks for the food for thought.




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