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Harry Potter e-books will be sold on special website; Rowling to offer 7 novels on 'Pottermore' in fall

Harry Potter battled the forces of evil and now is set to conquer the Web -- coming to e-books in a groundbreaking deal that has delighted fans but alarmed the book industry that helped make creator J.K. Rowling a billionaire.

Rowling announced Thursday that her seven novels about the boy wizard will be sold for the first time as e-books, beginning in October, exclusively through a new online portal to her wizarding world called "Pottermore."

The deal brings longtime e-book refusenik Rowling into the digital fold but comes as a bitter potion to established booksellers, who will be shut out of the latest chapter of a vastly profitable saga.

"You can't hold back progress," Rowling told reporters in London. "E-books are here, and they are here to stay."

The Potter novels will be available as audiobooks and e-books in multiple languages, initially including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. Prices have yet to be set.

The "Pottermore" website, meanwhile, is an immersive online environment that combines elements of a role-playing game and a digital encyclopedia with social networking and an online store.

By selling directly to fans, Rowling is bypassing established online retailers like Amazon, although the creators of "Pottermore" say the books will be compatible with popular e-readers including Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader and Apple's iPad.

Tom Turcan, chief operating officer of the new venture, Pottermore Ltd., said Rowling wanted "to make the books available to everybody, not to make them available only to people who own a particular set of devices, or tethered to a particular set of platforms."

Phil Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, a London-based trade magazine, said cutting out retailers was a gamble, but if anyone can pull that off, it would be Rowling. The 45-year-old British author has retained the electronic publishing rights to her books, which have sold 450 million copies around the world in paper form.

"Only Rowling could do this," Jones said. "I don't think any other author could launch their own site and get fans to buy e-books through it. And I think she will succeed. I think she will get hordes of fans on the site and sell hundreds of thousands of e-books."

Booksellers hope the e-books will further boost sales of the printed Potter books but have otherwise been cut out of the electronic future of the mega-successful series.

Jon Howells, spokesman for Britain's Waterstone's chain, said the Harry Potter book launches, which for years drew throngs of fans in wizard garb to midnight store openings, "have become the stuff of legend at Waterstone's and other booksellers."

"We're therefore disappointed that, having been a key factor in the growth of the Harry Potter phenomenon since the first book was published, the book trade is effectively banned from selling the long-awaited e-book editions," he said.

"Pottermore" had been the subject of intense speculation among fans since it appeared on the Internet with the words "coming soon." Rowling revealed Thursday it is a website designed to immerse users in her world of wizards and magic.

The site lets fans delve into Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. They can shop for wands in Diagon Alley, travel to Hogwarts from the imaginary Platform 9 3/4 at London's King's Cross train station and be sorted into Hogwarts school houses by the Sorting Hat. It includes wand fights, games and new information about characters.

It also features 18,000 words of new Potter material from Rowling, who said it will have "information I have been hoarding for years" about the books' characters and settings.

The site goes live July 31, Potter's birthday, when 1 million registered users will be chosen in an online competition to help flesh out the Pottermore world. Visitors can register now to enter the contest.

The site will be open to all users from October.

Initially it will follow the plot line of the first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," with the six other adventures added later. "(It's) a way I can be creative in a medium that didn't exist when I started the books back in 1990," Rowling told reporters.

The series has made her one of the world's richest women, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1 billion.

There may yet be another Potter book -- a long-anticipated encyclopedia. Rowling said she was still considering compiling one, with the proceeds going to charity.

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