A few weeks ago, I was put in charge of banker’s box labeled “Harry Potter 7: CONFIDENTIAL.”
I knew right away that it couldn’t be the book– it’s too soon for that and when it does come, it will be hidden away in our cataloging and processing area until the big day.
So, what was in the box? Is it really a great big secret? Well, yes, and no.
The box is full of bookmarks and other marketing materials. The secret is what the bookmarks say. No, I’m not kidding.
Scholastic has launched a huge marketing campaign for the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
I would think that “Hey! Harry Potter 7!” would be all the marketing they need– we already know it’s going to break every record for number of copies sold etc. Why market at all?
But Scholastic is– “There will soon be 7” is the catch phrase of their campaign, which also features seven questions that we hope will be answered in this final installment. Every two weeks we get a new question and a new book mark. The first two are “Who will live? Who will die?” and “Is Snape good or evil?”. The next 5… well, I haven’t looked yet. (Aren’t I good? And like I’d tell you anyway, IT’S A SECRET!)
Secrecy surrounding Mr. Potter isn’t a new thing. If I thought the three pages about the bookmarks was a little overboard, think about the secrecy actually surrounding the books.
The title and release dates were both huge announcements subject to much speculation.
Usually when a new book comes out, the publisher sends Advanced Reader’s Copies to reviewers to review, and bookstores and libraries to preview for purchasing. Publishers have even started sending ARCs to blogs that review books or discuss the topic at hand. It’s probably not a surprise, but trust me, there is no Advanced Reader’s Copy for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The lid is on this story, and tightly.
When it comes to the actual book and the actual release day, libraries had to sign a contract stating that they’d limit how many staff members handle the books, and provide names and contact info for every branch manager. Bookstores have similar agreements with Scholastic.
Is all this secrecy really necessary? When it comes to the book, yes, and no.
In 2003, when we were eagerly awaiting the publication of Order of the Phoenix, the New York Post ignored the embargo and printed two legible pages of the book before midnight release. They got slapped with a huge lawsuit. Two months before the book came out British Police were already arresting people for stealing the book. That same summer, delivery trucks filled with books were stolen across England. The trucks were recovered– the books were not. One of the workers at the printing press stole pages to sell.
This was two books ago. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince blew Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix out of the water as far as sales were concerned. I think I can safely say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will leave Half-Blood Prince in the dust.
So, on one hand, this secrecy and security is good, because who wants to have it ruined? Who wants to know if Snape is good or bad beforehand? Who wants to know who lives and who dies before they read it for themselves?
But, on the other hand, is the secrecy that Bloomsbury (the British publisher) and Scholastic have built up creating the demand for such thefts, thus creating the demand for more security and secrets in an ever ending cycle?
Or has Potter demand gotten so high that if such restrictions were not imposed, we’d all have our black-market copies read by now?
On the third hand, this secrecy builds demand–it’s an integral part of a brilliant marketing campaign–just look at my box full of top-secret bookmarks.
Of course, the secrecy is part of the campaign– it builds the hype and the suspense, and, let’s face it, the communal hype and craze over Harry is what makes him so fun.
I am keeping my bookmarks a secret even from myself, because opening up that new package every few weeks to see what it says is fun. The questions spark conversations with other people and while, from a marketing prospective, it keeps the hype up, let’s face it– the hype wasn’t going away. If anything, these small little surprises hold us over until July when we will stay up late reading this final installment and all questions will be answered for good. (We hope.)