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'Harry Potter' frenzy begins
Release planned for midnight; expect traffic jams
(CNN) -- Harry Potter is beginning his march across time zones, with young fans (and not-so-young fans) staying up past bedtime to get the first copies of book four in the wildly popular series.
The United Kingdom already has passed the bewitching hour -- midnight, July 8 -- and readers there can start snapping up copies of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
In the United States, the first-print run of the fourth J.K. Rowling wizard-in-training adventure is a record 3.8 million. It's the kind of number that makes best-selling authors like Tom Wolfe and John Grisham look like muggles (that's "Potter-ese" for a regular person without wizard powers).
Asked to put into perspective the mega-hype surrounding the release, Debra Williams, director of corporate communications at Barnes & Noble, says "We have not seen anything like this."
At Amazon.com and Borders, Inc., representatives in the marketing and publicity departments are in high gear, readying for one of the most anticipated releases -- book or movie -- in recent memory.
Just about every detail about the book has fed the frenzy, including the mystery-themed marketing approach in which publishers Scholastic Inc. and Bloomsbury have tried to keep the plot a secret. They even forced booksellers to sign an affidavit swearing they won't open or sell the new book before the stroke of midnight, when Friday slips into Saturday, July 8.
At least three U.S. booksellers broke their promise: A few copies of the book have leaked out, presumably turning its readers into the coolest kids on their respective blocks. But those who are in-the-know haven't yet divulged any spoilers reported by the media. It's rumored that book four will bring a girlfriend for Harry and the death of a popular character.
The Harry Potter series has not been without controversy. A handful of school systems have restricted the book, claiming its occult elements are a bad influence on children. And a writer, Nancy Stouffer, has sued Rowling for trademark infringement. Stouffer maintains Rowling borrowed character names and plot themes from works she published in the late 1980s.
'Harry Potter' events
Now, with the pregame "Harry Potter" show lacking nothing but Fox's in-your-face football announcers, it seems the only thing left for fans to do is buy the book. And thousands of bookstores, from the strip malls of California to the quaint towns of Europe, are planning a special opening to welcome the Saturday release date.
Many stores will sell the book starting at midnight, so fans of Harry and his quest to become a wizard can presumably read themselves to sleep, then get up and start reading more.
Among the scheduled events:
Barnes & Noble is transforming a section of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, into "Potter Town," which is "this whole capsule inside the mall," says Williams. "They'll have a forest, and a huge sign that says, 'Welcome to Hogwarts Academy.'" (To be precise, young Mr. Potter attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.)
Similar in-store events are planned at other Barnes & Noble outlets across America.
Borders, too. At the company's Westbury, Long Island, store, for instance, a magician will "magically make the new book appear at 12:01 a.m.," says Ann Binkley, a senior manager of public relations with Borders.
A Borders in Massachusetts is throwing a slumber party. "They're turning the whole store into a castle," says Binkley. So far, more than 500 kids have RSVP'd.
Independent bookstores are joining in the fun, too. Chapter 11 Books, an Atlanta-based chain, will lure fans to one store in Atlanta with a special guest.
"We have a person who looks exactly like Harry Potter," says Lindsay Bianchi, a bookseller with the chain. "He's 18, and he looks just like him. He'll have the polo shirt, red cape, geeky glasses.
"We're just going to have a mob," says Bianchi. "We're going to have books all over the place. 'Harry Potter' is going to be from one end of the store to the other."
On the West Coast of the United States, Powell Books in downtown Portland, Oregon, plans a midnight "Harry Potter" sale.
"And if you wear your pajamas, you get 20 percent off the book," says Meredith Schreiber, Powell's assistant manager.
Across the pond, in Rowling's hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland, one might think there will be a national day of celebration. Not so. Peter Richey, who runs the Bookworm, a small bookstore near Rowling's home, says Rowling is just an ordinary citizen there.
"She lives maybe a half a mile away," Richey says. "I see her now and again. She's a very nice woman. She's not reclusive or anything like that. She takes her kids to school, and the usual things like that."
July 8, Richey says, will be just another Saturday in Potter Central.
"I wouldn't say there has been any particular hype," Richey says. "It's not the same as (in) America."
Don't tell that to Victoria Seymour, a public relations executive with British bookseller W.H. Smith, which has a retail presence across Great Britain, including several in Edinburgh.
"Basically, nationwide we have 529 stores and all of them have taken upon themselves to do something to celebrate the release of the book," says Seymour, who lists events like midnight costume parties and "Harry Potter" story-writing contests. "For a retail like us, it's absolutely massive."
Then there's the cyber market. Amazon.com has been planning its "Harry Potter" strategy for months.
"This is the largest pre-order in e-commerce history on a single product," says Lyn Blake, general manager for online book giant. "Our last largest one was at about 43,000 units. Now we're at six times that level."
Amazon upped the ante for online booksellers by giving the first 250,000 preorder customers a free upgrade to Federal Express overnight delivery, ensuring the early birds will get their book on Saturday.
"We think it's a great investment to make in our customers," says Blake. "We figure that this is great for people who are current customers of Amazon.com and it will keep them happy with us. And we also think there's a lot of goodwill in terms of encouraging other people to come try out Amazon.com."
Barnes & Noble wants to keep its customers, so it followed Amazon.com's Internet lead and now promises a Saturday delivery for orders made by Wednesday.
Borders, though, has paid less attention to its online customers. It's giving $25 gift certificates to some, but Binkley says the company is focusing on in-store events.
"We're turning our stores into page of a book," she says. "You can't do that online."
Of course, these events don't include what the author herself will be doing. Rowling, who in the span of her "Harry Potter" fame has transformed herself from unemployed single mom to international success story, someone who is the idol of boys and girls (and some adults) everywhere, will take part in a train tour scheduled to begin on Saturday in London.
The steam train, designed to look like the Hogwarts Express in the "Harry Potter" books, will travel from England into Scotland, with stops for book-signing events along the way.
The purpose of all this, of course, is to sell books, books and more books. And some of the volumes sold won't have the name "Harry Potter" written on them. Amazon.com, for one, offers "more ways to celebrate" the release of Rowling's book by providing a link to books she hasn't written, but ones that fit into the wizard/mystical genre.
The "Harry Potter" series -- "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" are the first three -- has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and has been translated into 31 languages.
It's also being translated to the silver screen -- the Warner Brothers movie version of the first book is slated for a holiday 2001 release.
Put simply, when a book is this popular, demand is high for sequels.
"There has been a year lag time since the last book came out," says Williams of Barnes & Noble. "Everyone's just anxiously awaiting."
Everyone, including adults. While Rowling's books are written for "ages 9-12," they have struck a "Peter Pan" chord with older readers.
"It's really gotten kids excited about reading, but I know a bunch of adults who are waiting for the book," says Binkley. "I have a couple of friends who said, 'C'mon, you didn't get an advance copy?' I said, 'No, I won't have a copy until I'm in the store and purchase one.' And they said, 'I wanted to read it before everyone else.' And I said, 'Well, you're going to have to get in line like everybody else.'"
Girl gets early look at 'Potter' book
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