|JK Rowling's Pottermore is a landmark for digital publishing|
|Thursday, 23 June 2011 12:13|
JK Rowling's Pottermore shows up other authors and publishers who have yet to embrace the digital age, writes Olivia Solon.
The vast majority of books that have migrated to the digital world as ebooks have simply replicated the printed page. Some of them may have search and note-taking functionalities, but most ebooks are very much the web 1.0 equivalent of the literary world.
Pottermore.com, while not perfect, represents a significant landmark for digital publishing. J.K. Rowling has not just hauled out her manuscript and plonked it onto a website with a bit of frilly window-dressing from a digital agency. Instead, she has laboured for a year in close collaboration with creative developers TH_NK to curate an experience that really takes advantages of the unique properties of the web.
Not only has she written 18,000 additional words which help build on characters, places and objects for the site, but she has also helped develop a great series of interactive web experiences and gaming elements.
Pottermore lets the user choose a magic username and join Hogwarts in the virtual world just as Harry does in the books. Interactive features include a digital ‘Sorting Hat’ - which allocates Hogwarts’ students to a house and a ‘Wand Chooser’ – a tool that selects the appropriate wand for a user based on a series of questions.
Let’s not forget the social networking element either -- creating a web platform through which avid Potter devotees can connect is inspired. Fans already congregate through popular Harry Potter forums such as Mugglenet. So by building her own forum Rowling gains some control over her fanbase. This means that she will be able to harvest all of the demographic information, contact details and other data that would have formerly been owned by the publisher or retailer. She could use this data to directly communicate and promote any new initiatives to a self-selecting audience and even potentially take on more sponsors or affiliates to promote selected partner content to the network.
While these might look like small steps to games designers and veteran web publishers, these are giant leaps for the book publishing industry. It marks a clear commitment by the biggest selling author of the last decade to embrace digital and create a truly native experience.
However, there is still a long way to go. For a start, Pottermore is still very much a second screen experience which runs separate to the e-book files as opposed to being integrated into an interactive tablet experience. But in fairness, the iPad hadn’t launched when this project started and this does mean that it can be enjoyed by readers of the printed books.
Thankfully, at the press conference this morning, the Pottermore team explained that they were working on the web-enabled tablet integration. Hopefully this will mean that as you read the ebooks interactions will be triggered at appropriate intervals and perhaps even take advantage of some of the tablets’ inherent features such as accelerometers, GPS, cameras, gyroscopes, light sensors, microphones and internal clocks.
One publisher already taking steps to harness the new digital tools available to them is Faber. Faber teamed up with Touch Press to create an e-book iPad app of the solar system, which has multi-touch 3D planets and custom-made animations and videos. More recently they have launched an interactive app built around T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, complete with audio readings of the poem by different actors, interactive notes, expert perspectives and original manuscript pages.
The potential for digital publishing was illustrated wonderfully in a research project by design consultancy IDEO last year. They tried to find an answer to the question “how should books be in a digital world?”.
They proposed three book concepts which truly made the most of all of the tools in a tablet’s armoury. The concept called “Alice” seemed to get people’s juices flowing the most. It featured narrative clues that could be unlocked by shaking the screen so that most of the letters “fall off”, revealing hidden codes. Elsewhere, plot-lines could be revealed by opening the book while in a specific geo-location or you might even receive text messages and emails from the book’s protagonists.
Further down the line, one can imagine an author building a narrative framework through which the reader could navigate in a non-linear way from a range of different character perspectives.
It is unlikely that this would be every reader’s cup of tea. After all, one of the great joys of reading can be the narrator’s unique subjectivity. Furthermore, this could mean the these “books” end up looking like second-rate video games.
Having said that, it is evident that adding one-click reference guides, animations, character histories, maps and gaming elements could all enhance a reader’s enjoyment and engagement with a book.
Traditional publishers will need to tool up on their digital skills and resources if they want to compete in this new media landscape.
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JK Rowling's Pottermore is a landmark for digital publishing
Thursday, 23 June 2011
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