"Harry Potter Conjures Up Publishing Phenomenon"
by Lyndsay Griffiths (Reuters, July 6, 2000)
|LONDON (Reuters) - Take a good story, add some even better marketing -- and a publishing phenomenon is born.
Harry Potter is back. And with a vengeance.
The fourth book in the smash-hit Potter series goes on sale on Saturday, stirring mania in playgrounds and publishing houses around the world and proving the printed word is far from dead.
Sales are huge before the book is even out. The original manuscript has been locked in a bank vault, advance copies are banned and bookshops are staging sleepovers to cash in.
So is Potter a literary landmark or the product of admen?
``Sustained success is not possible thanks to marketing alone. It is readers who decide what makes a bestseller,'' J.G. Ballard, whose own novels fly off the shelves, told Reuters.
``But books are difficult to sell and publishers need all the help they can get. Literary prizes are one way. Scandal and celebrity are another,'' he said. ``Marketing is what the 20th century was really good at and it's here to stay.''
Potter's creator J.K. Rowling admits she is stunned by all the hoopla, more suited to a Hollywood star than a single mother from Scotland, and feels ``exposed'' by the sensation.
``I feel as if someone has taken the lid off my stone,'' she said in one interview. ``In my wildest fantasy I could not have imagined anything like this, I could not come even close.''
Indeed who could have imagined a trio of kids' books selling 35 million copies. Or being translated into 30-plus languages.
Never mind Playstation, Pokemon and all the fads of modern youth. Bespectacled Harry, a quaint boarding school throwback in the cyber era, is the most talked about boy in the world -- and his backers are laughing all the way to the bank.
``There has simply never been a publishing phenomenon like this,'' Christopher Little, Rowling's agent, told Reuters.
``Children who never read before are reading these books and in terms of sales, there is nothing to compare with this. I knew it would be successful. I never guessed the level,'' said Little, who wouldn't say how Rowling's good fortunes have affected his.
BIG SALES FOR SMALL BOY
Advance hardback sales of ``Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'' stand at 5.3 million for just four countries -- Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia. It is expected to be sold in another 106 and translated into 49 languages.
Online U.S. retailer Amazon.com has more than 250,000 pre-orders, the highest number it has ever received for a book.
Already, the British boy wizard has spent nearly 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, made the cover of Time magazine and is to star in a Hollywood film.
Remember he is just 14. And fictional.
``Yes, it has been brilliantly marketed but there's a great old saying in advertising that you can only sell a poor product once. The fact that she has done it four times suggests Rowling is probably a genius,'' said Rupert Howell, president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
``Combine a great product with great marketing -- then you get a phenomenon.''
The British publisher Bloomsbury, whose profits were driven 66 percent higher last year and whose stock price has jumped on Harry hype, have marketed their baby perfectly.
The title was first kept deadly secret, then suddenly released. No advance copies were circulated.
Book stores had to sign affidavits ensuring no copies were opened, sold or left their premises before Saturday.
The book's editor locked the manuscript in a bank vault each night and circulated it among just four members of staff.
``It was high secrecy,'' admitted Bloomsbury spokeswoman Colette Whitehouse. ``And it has certainly been immense fun.''
In a late publicity coup, an eight-year-old American became the only owner of the coveted book after a family friend mysteriously found a copy in a local store. ``I felt really lucky being the first girl in the whole world to have the Harry Potter book,'' Laura Cantwell told NBC television.
Luck -- or the marketeer's final masterstroke?