Transmedia Revenue: Pottermore and $ For Indies?

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling has announced a new online project, based on her books, that will be known as Pottermore. Many publishing insiders, academics and experimental online storytellers are eager to see if the new platforms of storytelling (e.g., interactive online texts?, games?, etc.) rumored to be part of Pottermore will appeal to the legions of Harry Potter fans. If the revenue from Pottermore is significant, Ms. Rowling's new venture may also provide a model for monetizing future multi-platform stories.

With Pottermore we may be witnessing the birth of a new revenue model - one that could eventually earn billions for the studios and the owners of franchise properties like Harry Potter. Some non-studio filmmakers (we used to call ourselves "indie filmmakers") are paying attention to Pottermore too, hoping that it may contain monetization ideas that we can adopt to make money online.

The J. K. Rowling video about Pottermore is enticing - but it leaves unanswered many important questions. For example: What will the online experience of Pottermore include (besides digital versions of the books)? Will Pottermore's interactivity invite a huge worldwide audience into the story in ways that (so far) only a few enterprising artists (I'm thinking of the magical work Moonbot Studios accomplished with "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"?) and transmedia theorists have been predicting? And - for those who are finicky about terminology - the most fundamental of questions remains: Is Pottermore (after the books, films, toys and homespun interactive games of Quidditch) simply the extension of an existing franchise onto a new platform - or will the interactivity of Pottermore go where Henry Jenkins and others have been predicting (shifting the narrative into the hands of the audience, allowing users to create something new that can be "expanded and remixed on the grassroots level") to make it a landmark event in a new age of "transmedia storytelling?"

Although it's tough to get agreement on a short simple definition of "transmedia storytelling," one of the best answers to the "What is Transmedia?" question I've found arrived on July 21, 2011, when Rich Fahle (founder of Astral Road Brand Media, a digital marketing agency for authors, artists and content creators) contributed the first of 2 blogposts about transmedia and the changing role of online video to the Video Commerce Consortium blog. Rich's July 21, 2011 post tackles some fundamental definitional questions and even includes some video - providing a solid intro to "transmedia." Rich's post also suggests how the potential for big bucks (from the expansion of the Harry Potter franchise into an online interactive experience?) may soon make "transmedia" a more widely accepted term.

Even though it isn't scheduled to launch until October 2011, you can register for Pottermore today. Many aspects of the Pottermore experience remain a closely-guarded secret as of July 2011. (As of late July 2011, the splashpage for the Pottermore website currently teases hardcore fans: “Come back on 31st July to find out how you can get the chance to enter Pottermore early.”) Still the revenue model for Pottermore (how users will pay to read and game and participate online) is already drawing much attention.

I've spent a lot of time this past year exploring the creative storytelling possibilities for filmmakers online (check out some of my work here). But many unanswered questions remain about revenue. How will online filmmakers and storytellers (especially those working on their own) monetize their efforts? Must you affiliate with a big company or is it possible to get paid for creating your own transmedia content?

As games and text and film are woven together online into a new form of interactive storytelling (what some academics and practitioners are calling "transmedia" storytelling) there will be huge revenue opportunities for the big media companies. Pottermore may become the first mega-online-interactive-storytelling-success. Or Pottermore could just be an over-hyped online store for re-purposed existing Harry Potter merchandise. If Pottermore really taps into the interactive potential of the online experience and becomes a blockbuster, it might push the definition of "transmedia" toward stories that actually invite users into the storytelling process and Pottermore could also establish a revenue model that non-studio filmmakers can use too.

Some indie filmmakers might resent all the attention devoted to Harry Potter - but I (for one) think Pottermore might just represent a key step toward a new type of storytelling - one where users can create something new within an author's universe while that original author earns revenue from all the new creative activity. Therefore I am wishing Ms. Rowling and her Pottermore team much success.

UPDATE: July 30th, 2011 The excitement around Pottermore is building. In a great interview published online by Forbes on July 29th, 2011, transmedia heavyweight, Jeff Gomez, talks about his hopes for the expansion of the Harry Potter storyworld onto a new (more interactive?) platform.

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