In the early 90s we get email, which is still a highly effective communication tool. It’s the mechanism used by publishers to send scoops to the fan sites. These messages can be forwarded or copied and pasted online.
In 1995 we get Yahoo! and in 1998 Google. Suddenly we have incredibly powerful search engines that allow us to not just surf the web but to actually search for the things we want to see. These search engines also thrive on links. The cross-linking between fan sites establishes the reputation of certain sites and helps identify who’s who in the online fan community.
Search engines also are the #1 tool that amplify and make persistent our online conversation. Now there is a way to see who’s talking about what, how many sites are talking about one thing, and that information is indexed and archived in the search engines.
So the online stage is set for 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is published in the UK. What follows is a $100,000 advance from Scholastic to publish the book in the US. The online media pick up on this story along with the Cinderella story of Jo as a single mom writing in cafes.
And we get the early fan sites, we get the first US book tour, we get onto the NYTimes bestseller list and stay there.
1999 is also the year of MySpace.com and LiveJournal : 2 sites that play a huge role in terms of virtual communities and giving fans really easy ways to create communities and to stay in touch. It’s becoming easier and easier to make a website.
1999 also sees the birth of MuggleNet.com . 12-year-old Emerson Spartz gives us what’s to become one of the premier fan sites. These early days eventually lead to his in-person meeting with JK Rowling and the launch 6 years later of Mugglecast.
For the first time fans see the world that they’ve been imagining. Which means that there is no dearth of things to talk about. Fans start blogging, joining fan sites, and in 2003, 2 exciting things happen.
2004: That explosion of voices means that someone needs to step up as the Official Source. JK Rowling and her publishers take up the call to action. JKRowling.com is re-designed and becomes THE source for Harry Potter announcements.
2005. YouTube.com launches. We finally have audio and video in a way that is easy to share.
With YouTube in particular, there’s a built-in piece of technology that let’s us grab a piece of code and embed it on any site. This means fans can grab stills and clips from the movies can create their own mashups, movie trailers, music videos.
It’s the "perfect storm." The height of Pottermania: the goodbyes to the series, the tell-all interviews with author J.K. Rowling, the fan reviews … the harsh articles talking about the Harry Potter buzz machine.
But you can see from our Short History of the Internet that it was less about marketing and more about timing.
Monique Trottier is president of Boxcar Marketing, an internet marketing company. Former internet marketing manager of Raincoast Books, she spearheaded major online marketing campaigns, including promotion of Harry Potter and the creation of the first Canadian-publisher podcast and blog.