Interview: Charlie Redmayne, ceo of Pottermore

Ahead of this year’s FutureBook Conference, The Bookseller's Felicity Wood talks to keynote speaker Charlie Redmayne, c.e.o. of Pottermore, about building brands and harnessing fans.  

Charlie Redmayne has been in the top job at Pottermore for a year now, casting numerous multimedia spells along the way to enchant its 40 million-strong fanbase. Leaving his role as HarperCollins’ chief digital officer in November 2011 (Redmayne was brought in to spearhead the publisher’s digital transformation), he has since led the Pottermore team in the creation of an online home for the seven Harry Potter books.

That home now includes 18,000 words of additional content from J K Rowling, a direct-to-consumer shop that sells DRM-lite e-books compatible with any device in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese and, of course, a sorting hat. “I don’t think people always understand the scale of what we have done in the past 12 months. The level of work has been very intense,” says Redmayne. “What we’ve done with Pottermore is harness a fanbase of millions of the biggest Harry Potter fans. In terms of producing value to all of the rights holders—be it J K Rowling, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Warner Bros, or indeed our sponsor Sony—that’s an immensely valuable thing as any new books, content or products come out. For any launch we have a direct relationship with those fans already, who we can then engage with.”

Registration for the limited beta release of Pottermore opened on 31st July 2011 (Harry’s birthday) with the site then opened to all this April. Redmayne says his job now is to “take what we’ve done with the browser experience to other platforms, be it YouTube, app stores, the gaming world.” He explains: “What we built initially was for hardcore fans, but what we will be shaping out now is how to engage with new fans. There are X million new eight-year-olds in the world who are discovering Harry Potter every year—how do we engage with them? How do we make sure Pottermore is an important part of that discovery of Harry Potter? “So there will be more interactivity, more community elements—this is critical for us if we are to engage with these new fans. You’re going to see stuff being developed on other platforms and you might also see things happening in the app and enhanced e-book space.” 

Last week saw the launch of the Book of Spells, an augmented reality spell-book for the PlayStation3, released as part of Pottermore’s relationship with Sony. When it comes to rolling out the Pottermore world to other platforms, Redmayne is very open to working with the “right brands”, explaining that “if you have a brand that is very relevant to 11 to 15-year olds, it is clear to me they consume more content on YouTube than on TV, for example. So therefore we have to think very carefully about what we do for Harry Potter and Pottermore in that environment.” He is also not afraid of chasing the middle ground, suggesting that the projects that fall between the cracks between publishers and film companies are what Pottermore is all about. “The convergence of media challenges existing rights structures that were put together at a time when there was clear blue water between what publishers did and what film companies did.

There is a lot in the middle that you could do great stuff with, if the film and publishing companies got together and said ‘your rights, my rights, lets put them together and do something amazing on YouTube, with in-flight entertainment, or on tablet devices’. But in many cases, they look across suspiciously at each and don’t speak to each other, so that stuff in the middle drops through. Pottermore is about doing all of those things in the middle.”

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