I’ve recently learned of the “Pottermore Affiliate” scheme. You may have already started seeing banners around the web directing you to visit Pottermore – the official Harry Potter shop – where you can buy eBooks and audiobooks. Click on one of the banners and the site owner will get a 4% commission on anything you buy. That works out to be £1.55 if you buy the complete collection of ebooks for £39.
What’s interesting is the way they are reaching out to Harry Potter fan sites. For years there has been an uneasy relationship between The Official Harry Potter Rights Holders ™©® and the unofficial sites set up by fans.
On the one hand, there’s no doubt the majority of these sites drive people to official HP sources where they can buy books and replica wands. On the other, there’s no quality control, a concern that the sites may have a commercial motive, and that untrustworthy sites could damage the brand.
After a few tactical lawsuits, it now appears that unofficial sites will be able to sell official merchandise and books through an affiliate scheme.
According to the guide for affiliates (which has an excellent section for fan sites)
Harry Potter fan content and/or websites must be non-commercial and not-for-profit. Fan sites may, however, link through to the Pottermore Shop and receive a modest percentage revenue for any sales where the revenue is used for the sole purpose of supporting the Harry Potter fan site.
No profit should be made overall for any such sales.
So, if you’re a hobbyist running a “OMG! I LUV RON WEASLEY!!” site, you may get a few quid in to cover your hosting. At 4% commission, you’d have to sell a lot of Chocolate Frogs in order to trip into the profit making side of things.
If you’re one of the larger sites, your hosting costs are likely to be considerably higher – and the affiliate scheme may help bring those costs down.
It’s an excellent move from the Pottermore team. It helps fan sites to get a little touch of the official magic as well as reducing their costs. Visitors are gently directed to the official pages where – theoretically – they can be assured of quality.
Is this the future of online fandom? Companies tolerating amateur players – and partially funding their operations – in order to promote themselves.
A smart move from the Harry Potter team; bring fans back in from the cold. I worry, however, on a meta-level what fans of fan sites will think? Does it cheapen the fan site experience to have it plastered with official adverts? Do readers think that a site can’t be objective if they now have a vested interest in selling merchandise?
If I tell you that musician Steve Lawson is incredible and you should buy his music – do you trust me if you know I get a couple of quid every time someone buys one of his excellent CDs?
It’s undoubtedly a good tactic for creative types to get their fans to be advertisers. But are recommendations, and fandom in general, cheapened when there’s money involved?