Site to include new material about characters

Now it’s Sony’s turn to reap some financial rewards from the “Harry Potter” franchise.

The company is building J.K. Rowling’s “Pottermore” website, a deal that will give the electronics maker the chance to create a “Harry Potter”-branded e-book reader and other related hardware and software in October, when the dotcom starts selling digital versions of the book series for the first time.

The e-books won’t be exclusive to Sony’s readers, however. Rowling is making sure the books will be available on every device, enabling the author to generate more sales in the long run.

Sales of e-books are still small, but increased 164% to $441,000 in 2010 in the U.S., according to the Association of American Publishers. They still make up less than 10% of total consumer book sales.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” will be the first title available, followed by “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” in early 2012.

In the past, Rowling has awarded the film rights to Warner Bros., while Electronic Arts has published videogames. British publisher Bloomsbury owns the rights to publish the books in the U.K., while Scholastic publishes the series in the U.S.

Those two publishers will benefit from a share of the e-book sales, but Rowling controls the full rights to the digital books.

The launch of “Pottermore,” unveiled Thursday, will force fans to buy the e-books directly from Rowling’s venture rather than buy them from Amazon’s Kindle outlet, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store or Apple’s iBookstore.

And it could be very lucrative: The “Harry Potter” books have sold at least 400 million copies worldwide.

Outside of the book sales, the “Pottermore” site should prove a big draw for fans, given that it will offer readers additional unpublished material about the “Potter” characters.

Speaking at a press conference in London on Thursday, Rowling announced that she had written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects for “Pottermore.”

The project, which Rowling said had been in the works for two years, is a free-to-use interactive website that is ultimately intended to become an entire online reading experience, which readers can engage with as they read the books.

Users of the site are placed into various Hogwarts houses according to their characteristics and will be given glimpses of new information she has provided about the “Potter” characters.

“I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years and to bring the stories to a new digital generation,” said Rowling, who has in the past been a vocal advocate of physical print edition of tomes. “I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape ‘Pottermore’ as I have. To add to my input into the website, everyone will be able to join in by submitting their own comments, drawings and other content in a safe and friendly environment.”

Rowling revealed that while “Pottermore,” along with the “Pottermore Shop,” will be open to users in October, fans can submit their email addresses on Pottermore.com in order to be contacted by the site following the opening of registration on July 31.

U.K. digital agency TH_NK is executing the site under Rowling’s supervision in co-operation with Sony.

Sony is eager to increase sales of its e-book reader, which the company continues to update and redesign.

Sony chief Howard Stringer called the deal “a pioneering partnership that will help shape the future of storytelling. We are proud to be a part of it, both at this momentous announcement, and as we collaborate on its development over the coming years.”

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