Friday, April 20, 2007

When 'Harry Potter' books became famous, so did fans

This morning in the FREEP...
April 20, 2007 BY HILLEL ITALIE A.P.
Emerson Spartz remembers the good old days. It was Fall 1999, Spartz was 12 and he decided to create a little Web site about a hot new series of fantasy books, the Harry Potter craze was just beginning.

"The sites were very primitive, especially compared to modern Harry Potter sites," says Spartz, founder of, one of the leading Potter sites. "The biggest Web sites were updated a couple times a week at most, and other than message boards, there was no interactivity between fans."
Like J.K. Rowling herself, Potter fan sites didn't start out to make history. They popped up like so many variations of "Wayne's World," operated on the cheap by "teenage kids out of their basements," Spartz recalls.
It's been 10 years since readers met the boy wizard in Rowling's first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." More than 300 million copies later, the Potter series ends July 21 when Scholastic Inc. releases the seventh adventure, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

Spartz and his many fellow Webmasters are looking back at their own place on the record-breaking ride. The story of Potter has all along been a story of its fans, and, like everything else about Potter, the fan sites are in a special class.
"The Potter sites set the standard," says Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher for rival Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that releases "Star Trek" paperbacks.
"The thing about the Potter phenomenon is that it has a huge, active fan base, both young and old, with a lot of teenagers. ... The Potter sites really stand out -- they're like a marketing machine."
The Potter sites have long advanced from the slow pace, simple texts and dull backgrounds of the early years, and now have all the latest accessories: blogs, podcasts, audio and video. They no longer just comment on the news, but participate. Rowling has praised the sites by name, granted them rare interviews, even used one site, the Harry Potter Lexicon (, to check facts.

Warner Bros. has invited Spartz and others to the sets of Potter films and premieres, valuing their expertise and their access to so many fans.

Melissa Anelli, the Webmaster for, has been part of the Potter world since 2001, not long after Leaky started, "as a means for a few friends to keep track of all the news about Harry Potter." The first Potter film was coming out, as was the fourth Potter book, so they experimented with a relatively new Web tool: a blog.
"It was a one-page blog, with no other features but news. It had a blue background and Halloween orange text," recalls the 27-year-old Anelli, a freelance journalist who lives in New York.

Anelli estimates there are some 3 million to 4 million Potter sites in dozens of languages, including French, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Hebrew. Like a small town exploding into a vast metropolis, the Potter boom drove some of the pioneers out, including Mike Gray, an early member of Harry Potter for Grownups, a Web site founded in the late 1990s.
"Somewhere along the line, I noticed that participating in a list with more than 10,000 members didn't really ring my bell -- and that being responsible for people whose bells were thusly rung probably wasn't my calling."

Web sites helped start the international Potter obsession and kept it going when Rowling took three years -- 2000-2003 -- to write Potter V, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," driving fans to tear "their hair out in anticipation," Anelli recalls. She also cites the first Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which came out in 2001.
"That's when fans needed a stronger visual fix of Potter; they wanted to see more pictures of the celebrities, they wanted to read about them and see clips from the films," she says. Potter sites have been counting down to the big night in July and will likely stay around well after Rowling moves on. Two more movies are planned after this summer's release of "Order of the Phoenix," and a thriving genre of Potter fan fiction remains, with readers not waiting for "Deathly Hallows" to imagine how they would continue the story.

No comments: