Delivery of Harry Potter

The Delivery of Harry Potter IV

 by Kenny Brechner

    During my ten years in the book business I can say with confidence that nothing remotely like the internal events surrounding the impending release of Harry Potter IV (HPIV) have ever occurred before.

    Much of the commotion has been caused by the difficulty in balancing two elements involved in the release, the "on sale date", and the extraordinary degree of secrecy which J.K. Rowlings' British and American publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic respectively, have desired to maintain over the book itself.

    The on sale, or street date, in this case July 8th, is a date established by a publisher on which, but not before, the selling of a particular title may begin in retail stores. In order for stores all over the country to have the same opportunity to begin selling the book on the street date the publisher must ship the books to stores well in advance of that date.

    The previous three Harry Potter books were shipped out well in advance of their street dates. HPIV, however, differs from its predecessors in that its American release date is the same as its British release date. Ever since Harry Potter caught on in the United States Scholastic has been trying to catch up with the Bloomsbury release dates, which had a year’s head start.

    The synchronized release of HPIV has allowed its publishers to try and maintain absolute secrecy concerning it. No review copies have been sent, no galleys circulated, even the title was kept secret until it was leaked to a London newspaper on June 27. The title was revealed as Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. (Keep in mind that the first Harry Potter was changed from the British Philosopher's Stone into the more American sounding Sorcerer's Stone. Hence we could see an American release entitled Harry Potter and the Barbecue Pit, or something to that effect.)

    In any case the desire for secrecy has led Scholastic to time the delivery of HPIV to be only one or two days in advance of its street date. They also chose a Saturday street date, leaving no margin for error in terms of UPS delivery, which is unprecedented.

    Furthermore, in yet another unprecedented move, they required stores to sign and return affidavits stating that they must "ensure that these books are kept secure and not placed on the selling floor, sold, distributed, displayed or leave your secure environment prior to this date. This includes staff 'reads' and complimentary copies also." (Children of bookstore owners who would never speak to their parent again if a copy isn’t brought home early?)

    Scholastic then proceeded to agree to allow to seemingly violate the affidavit by overnight shipping HPIV on July 7th, releasing a hailstorm of protest from the American Booksellers Association.

    We are familiar with hoping a book in a series may prove to be as dramatic as its predecessors. One is hard pressed, however, to remember hoping for a book to be as dramatic as the circumstances surrounding its delivery.