Harry Potter and the Order of the Nerd
The ability of the Harry Potter franchise to make news is undeniable, whether due to impending movie (TRAILER!!) and book arrivals--to be released mere weeks apart--or due to the nude stage debut of its young star. But HP's got other magical powers, too...powers that the media is just beginning to understand. For one, Harry Potter the brand makes a lot of money--for JK Rowling, certainly, but for other people as well. People like 20-year-old Emerson Spartz, who started a little website way back in 1999 (when he was 12) on the eve of the first book's arrival on shelves. Now his site, MuggleNet, is one of the larger and more authoritative Potter sites out there. And Spartz makes money from it, money that pays for him to go to college at Notre Dame.
But that's not it, either--money and headlines are one thing, but Potter's mythos is where the real magic is. Because now that mythos is so great that those who follow it have become part of it, and Rowling has not only embraced her super fans, but included them in her process (see below).
This is part of the internet era, to be sure, but it's also smart marketing on the part of Rowling. It heralds a time in history when the true "authorship" of works is up for grabs: how influenced might Rowling be by the things her fans say and do? How large an effect might fans have on the storylines? Are we all, in our own way, Hogwarts students? I like to think so--I'd totally be in Gryffindor.
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., which once tried to shut down many of the fan sites because of copyright concerns, has invited Spartz and others to the sets of Potter films and premieres, valuing their expertise and, of course, their access to so many fans.