For the nation’s booksellers, Christmas is coming in July. July 8 at 12:01 a.m., to be exact, which is when all 3.8 million copies of J.K. Rowling’s fourth Harry Potter novel will go on sale. It’s the biggest first printing anyone in the business can remember — one that will likely shatter previous book-sales records. Even the venerable New York Times Book Review has taken note: Sources say that the paper, responding to pressure from publishers, plans to start a children’s best-seller list around July 8 so that Rowling will not monopolize so many slots on the adult list. Amazon, which has been taking orders since February, has already presold 123,000 copies. And all of the chains are busy planning ways to handle the expected crush: A Barnes & Noble spokesman says that ”at least 90 percent” of the chain’s 544 stores will stay open from midnight to 1 a.m. on July 8; Borders estimates about half of its 300 stores will keep late hours.
The independent stores are bracing for Harry’s arrival too.”We have 47 days to get ready,” says Jennifer Anglin, owner of the Enchanted Forest, a children’s bookstore in Dallas, which plans to provide a ventriloquist speaking through a sorting hat, a Hogwarts School complete with magic classes, a Leaky Cauldron restaurant — and, if the local animal rescue center can provide one, a live owl. ”We do events, but never on this scale,” Anglin says. ”Harry‘s a phenomenon.”
More like a force of nature. Michael Jacobs, senior vice president at Scholastic, Rowling’s U.S. publisher, says getting 3.8 million copies to the stores is ”an almost military-like operation.” The company will hire ”beach pulls” — signs attached to airplanes — to remind vacationers about the book on both coasts over the Fourth of July weekend (”in case they’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know,” says Jacobs). And, under strict orders from Rowling herself, no one — not even reviewers — will have an early copy of the book. Even the title, which was for a short time rumored to be Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament (”That was tentative,” insists Jacobs), will remain under wraps.
”The reason for the secrecy is nothing sinister,” says Rosamund de la Hey, head of children’s sales and marketing for Bloomsbury, Rowling’s British publisher. ”She just doesn’t want children to have the surprise ruined for them by [details] getting into the press beforehand.” Because even if grown-up Muggles are drawn to Harry Potter — and some are making a nice profit along the way — Rowling is writing for children. ”Kids have driven this,” says Jacobs. ”The rest of the world has come along behind them.”