"Harry Potter Magic Halts Bedtime for Youngsters"
by David D. Kirkpatrick ("New York Times," July 9, 2000)
|At 12:00 yesterday morning, 8-year-old Gabriel Back-Gaal was standing guard over the door of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. Behind him stretched a line of hundreds of children and parents, all awaiting their first chance to buy "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth book in the wildly popular series about the exploits of Harry Potter, the boy wizard.
To many it was a historic occasion -- some even brought cameras to record the purchase. "Harry Potter has been your life for the last year," Gabriel's mother, Adina Back, said to him as they counted the minutes. "You mean two years," he corrected.
Inside the store, Susan Scioli, its owner, and a handful of employees and friends were putting the finishing touches on decorations and accessories for the occasion -- cob webs, dry ice and refreshments contrived to resemble those served in the novel like Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans and Butter Beer. A Barnes & Noble store just up the street was throwing a rival Harry Potter party, and Ms. Scioli risked seeing her customers slip away. Finally, at 12:03, she drew back a curtain covering the store front and a witch ran out to ring a giant gong, kicking off the festivities.
It was a night of bedtime amnesty across the country as children and parents made treks to bookstores opening around midnight to capitalize on the enormous pent-up demand for the new title with Harry Potter parties, gimmicks and stunts. The novel is the latest installation in a planned seven-book series by J. K. Rowling chronicling the education of Harry Potter at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Following the extraordinary success of the three previous Harry Potter books, the book's publishers enforced strict secrecy about its contents and required booksellers to keep all copies under wraps until 12:01 a.m. yesterday, heightening the suspense and the pandemonium when the moment finally arrived.
Not since "Gone With the Wind" has a best-selling book swept the nation the way Harry Potter has, the booksellers say.
The first three titles dominated best-seller lists last year and have already racked up sales of more than 18 million copies in the United States alone.
With the publication of the fourth, Harry Potter has become a phenomenon in both book publishing and children's culture. For the moment, the hottest trend at elementary schools and summer camps is not a video game or a movie -- it is an old-fashioned, ink-and-paper book.
"There has never been anything like this is the history of book selling," said Steve Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes & Noble. "I think this could be the most profitable book we ever sold; if we can get kids hooked on a seven-book series, hopefully we could get them hooked on reading for life."
He said Barnes & Noble and its online store recorded 360,000 orders for the book before its publication, more than 10 times as many as for any previous title. The stores sold 114,000 more books in just one hour, after midnight yesterday morning.
Parents, delighted their children are reading, find book shopping an especially hard indulgence to refuse, even if it means standing in long lines until 1 a.m.
"If it gets kids reading, it's good," said John Turturro, the actor who waited at Community Bookstore with his son, Amedeo, 10.
"Harry Potter really got my daughter reading -- she didn't read books before and now she loves it," said Lorraine Stern, standing with her daughter near a trio of witches cavorting in the lobby of the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center in Manhattan at 9 p.m. Friday.
Her daughter, Hannah, 11, said: "At school, everybody comes up to each other asking, 'Did you read the new Harry Potter?', If I didn't get it this weekend, I'd be really mad."
After taking in the scene at Barnes & Noble, Hannah and her mother planned to buy their copy at a bookstore near their home in Long Island. The late-night expedition might exhaust Hannah, who had a softball playoff game later in the day, her mother said, but she reasoned that the opposing team would be out late book shopping, too.
The onslaught of excited children created bedlam at bookstores, many of which ran out of books. The Borders bookstore in Santa Fe, N.M., hired a trio of magicians to perform, invited customers to attend in wizard costume, and insisted that its staff dress up, too.
But customers had already reserved 500 of the 580 copies in stock, and the rest sold out between 12 and 12:15. "It's that cabbage patch doll mentality all over again," said the party's organizer, Bay Anapol. "People have been calling panic-stricken over not being able to get a book," she said.
Community, in Brooklyn, started the night with about 300 copies, 250 of them already reserved, and shortly after 1 a.m. it had run out, too.
Barbara Marcus, president of children's books at Scholastic Inc., the book's American publisher, insists there are still plenty of copies on hand. The company gave the book a first printing of 3.8 million copies, the largest ever. That is more than the previous Harry Potter title sold in all of last year, when it was the best-selling hardcover book in the United States. Most of the first printing is already in stores, and the company plan to print another 2 million copies this month.
Online bookstores, too, have been trying to build up the Harry Potter mania with author interviews, online discussions and Harry Potter Web pages.
Amazon.com has tried to sell everything from glittery capes to gas-powered barbecue equipment under a Hogwarts theme.
In some places, the hype surrounding the book began to intrude on the book sales. A half-dozen television crews turned up at Books of Wonder, a children's specialty bookstore in Manhattan, and irked some customers by trying to push them out of the way. "The customers were well behaved, but the media was not," the owner, Peter Glassman, said.
"These people were acting like this was for their benefit instead of the customers. It's a children's book event, not a summit between Clinton and Putin."
Doug Korves, an architect whose office is up the street from Books of Wonder, knew what kind of crowd to expect. Last year, he waited with his daughter, Alexandra, 9, to get a book signed by the author, J. K. Rowling, and the line stretched down the block. (Ms. Rowling, who lives in England, signed more than 1,000 books that night.) This time, he stationed himself outside the store at around 9 and tried to read a thick stack of documents by street light. His daughter took a nap before joining him at 11 "for the party," he said. She was the first to receive a copy of the book at the store, and suffered a bout of stagefright when several television cameramen closed in.
Some parents were out at midnight just to send a copy of the book to children at summer camps, where interest in the new volume has been keen. The Point O'Pines Camp in Brant Lake, N.Y., has been gripped by a Harry Potter frenzy, said Stephanie Schwartz, 22, a staff member and herself a Potter fan. She said a quick dinner-time poll indicated that at least a third of the camp's 300 girls expected to receive a copy in the mail.
Yesterday, everyone in line for the book already knew that, at 752 pages, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is far longer than its predecessors.
Harry Potter's young readers, though, saw the length as nothing but a boon.
Many of them said they had already been reading the previous books through more than once while waiting for this one.
But many were still surprised at its heft.
"I'm reading it to my 5-year-old son," said Robert Helfand, picking up his copy at Community Bookstore, "I'm buying a lot of throat spray."