Intended to be “the digital heart of the Wizarding World,” Pottermore promised to become our only source for all things Harry Potter. But through the years, it has been unable to keep that promise. What happened?
Pottermore’s limited beta version release took place in 2011, with only a million fans allowed to register. J.K. Rowling, initially in partnership with Sony, announced the site as something the internet had never seen before; the future of the Harry Potter franchise and a fitting response — although we’ve long disagreed — to the fandom’s clamor for a Harry Potter Encyclopedia.
But while it was promising in its beta phases, still offering what we thought was a glimpse at a much bigger picture, Pottermore failed to follow through. Although it did offer us some much-loved quizzes such as the Sorting ceremony (much-hated if you got the wrong House) and the Patronus Quiz, interest in Pottermore has swiftly declined over the years.
Many have analyzed what exactly it was, practically, that Pottermore failed to do. But the fizzling out of interest on the fandom’s part is due to much more profound reasons than just interface, usernames or even skepticism towards Sorting results. Pottermore failed to understand exactly what the Harry Potter fandom is, and what it wants.
Limitless canon isn’t the answer
In a way, it’s understandable that Pottermore felt confident in the idea of being a new, groundbreaking element of fandom interaction. After all, Harry Potter was a groundbreaking franchise, and essentially set the tone for what fandom is and how it works for this generation. It wasn’t crazy to think that Harry Potter could do it again; but it was a gamble, and one that didn’t quite pay off the way they intended it to.
The problem is that as much as the fandom thought it wanted more information about the Wizarding World, it didn’t really. The past 10 years have perfectly demonstrated what an oversaturation of contextless canon looks like. Between Pottermore, Rowling’s own tweets, and Cursed Child, many fans now purposefully ignore any information provided after Deathly Hallows was published.
Limitless canon, in the form Pottermore offers it, is not what we want. While we loved finding out information about wand cores in the beginning, subsequent years began to feel more strained as we were presented with more information that was revealed outside the books. Even though it was written by Rowling, it felt oddly transgressive. The books and movies were finished.
And how much more could Rowling really provide? More character biographies, that messed with years worth of headcanons of the entire fandom? More random information about inanimate objects? At what point does it stop?
Bias was inevitable, and stifling
But the most unexpected factor in Pottermore’s fate has been its uncomfortable relationship with Rowling herself. As a website created for fans, it intends to give fans a safe space to explore their passion for the Harry Potter books. But as a platform for the author, it isn’t entirely able to open itself up, needing to protect her image. There’s a strange dynamic going on there: how many authors create a kind of social network centered around their books and keep it as their publishing platform?
It creates a strange conundrum that couldn’t have been predicted during Pottermore’s inception. Recently, a previously employed writer for the site revealed that the controversy surrounding the casting of Johnny Depp — shortly after the Ilvermorny cultural appropriation controversy — may have contributed to employee discomfort. They were expected to write articles about the Harry Potter franchise right when all eyes were turned to Fantastic Beasts: and yet as employees of the very source content, they couldn’t speak on the most popular topic of conversation for fear of making a statement.
And what is a fandom platform if you can’t criticize the source material, analyze it, or even properly defend it with facts? Well, it becomes publicity.
Between the Depp controversy and outside criticism of Ilvermorny’s cultural appropriation, Pottermore lost its legitimacy — not because of its closeness to these issues, but because of its inability to have a voice in them.
The fandom doesn’t need another site
The idea of Pottermore was ambitious. It intended to gather the entire body of the global Harry Potter fandom in one place, give it a home, and keep it fed and happy. But that was an unrealistic goal. Not everyone went to Pottermore, and worse, most people didn’t want to stay.
After all, there already were 10 years worth of Harry Potter platforms on the internet, painstakingly crafted and loyally maintained. Some fans had become famous within the fandom itself, gathering a loyal following. People had found niches that suited their needs and reflected their experience with Harry Potter in the ways that they wanted. The fandom had already found many, diverse and eloquent places to be: it didn’t need centralization.
As precious as quizzes and canon might be, the heart of a fandom is its conversation. And perhaps Pottermore realized this in 2016, when it sent out a call for writers to create content for the site. But by then, we all had our own places to find book analysis, news, and listicles. Pottermore was unable to tap into an already oversaturated market — especially with its unusual limitations.
What would it take?
This isn’t to say that it’s the end of Pottermore, although recent news might be a bad sign. But if Pottermore intends to stay (or, some might say, become) relevant, it needs to find something truly revolutionary to offer. And that’s tricky when it comes to fandom: you never know what to expect.
With all the controversy surrounding the franchise, and with millions pouring in regardless thanks to the Fantastic Beasts movies, this might just be the right time to give Pottermore a rest.