Harry Potter books to go digital

Author J.K. Rowling describes online Pottermore.com store, where she'll sell Harry Potter e-books and offer new material

Author J. K. Rowling on Thursday unveiled the Pottermore.com website, which will be used to sell electronic versions of her seven Harry Potter books and will allow fans to network with one another and with Rowling.

The announcement was made during a ceremony in London this morning. Rowling also explains the plan in a brief YouTube video released today.

Rowling said the Harry Potter e-books will be available in multiple languages and will be readable on any electronic reading device.

The online store will open in October, she added.

Users can start registering email addresses at the Pottermore.com site today and will be contacted when full registration begins on July 31, the fictional Harry Potter's birthday.

Once fully registered, fans are eligible to participate in an online challenge from which 1 million people will be chosen to take part in the beta phase of the site. The winning users will be able to suggest site improvements, according to a statement from Rowling's U.K. publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing.

In its statement, Bloomsbury said it will share in revenue generated from the site. It also noted that Rowling herself owns the rights to the digital version of the Harry Potter books.

The first Potter book appeared in print in 1997, with the seventh published in 2007. Warner Bros. has produced eight films based on the books, with the final movie scheduled to open on July 15 in the U.S.

Bloomsbury owns the print rights to the seven books in the U.K.; Scholastic owns the rights to the print version of the books in the U.S.

Rowling said Pottermore.com will also offer social networking tools to allow fans to share Potter stories with friends.

She said the site will feature an amplified Sorting Hat that asks visitors questions in order to sort them into Hogwarts houses, as it did with students in her books. In all, Rowling has written 18,000 words of new material on the website about the characters, places and objects from the books.

At the London announcement, Rowling said she has been slowly convinced of the value of digitized books.

"E-books are here, and they are here to stay," she said. "I still love a print-and-paper book, but I think you can enjoy both."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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