New Sign on Harry Potter's Forehead: For Sale
New York Times - Business
June 16, 2003
When the fourth book in the wildly popular Harry Potter series went on sale three years ago, children, parents and bookstore clerks contrived homemade robes, glasses and wizard hats to dress for the occasion.
This time, merchandisers are leaving nothing to the imagination. When the next installment, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," goes on sale midnight Friday, fans can buy officially licensed paraphernalia like a Harry Potter robe with built-in "fiber optic lights," ($55.99), a battery-powered magic wand with flashing lights and sound effects ($12.99) and forehead-scar makeup ($7.49).
J. K. Rowling, the author of the series, has often said she wanted to protect her stories from becoming encrusted with marketing pitches and merchandising plugs, but she may have finally lost the battle. Her fifth novel is the first to arrive since Warner Brothers began making Harry Potter movies and selling the licensing rights. Out of deference to Ms. Rowling, the licensing agreements try to block toy or candy companies from tying their products directly to the books. But retailers are capitalizing on the anticipation of the new novel to push everything from Harry Potter video games to bubble bath.
Officially under wraps until the day of release, the new book is setting off an unprecedented marketing melee. Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us will stack copies of the book alongside piles of DVD's, Legos, action figures, candy and stuffed toys.
Bookstores large and small are defending their turf with elaborate spectacles, including a miniature golf course, a human chess game, a functioning railroad train and carnivorous plants, owls, rats and lizards. Other publishers are hoping to ride Harry Potter's coattails, with one even pushing a Marxist critique of the marketing of Harry Potter.
Scholastic, which publishes the Harry Potter books in the United States, says it expects early sales of the new book to double the record-breaking sales of the last one, even though it is nearly 900 pages long and has a $29.99 cover price. Judy Corman, a company spokeswoman, said it planned two initial printings totaling 8.5 million hardcover copies of "Order of the Phoenix," compared with an initial printing of 3.8 million for the previous volume, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." (There are 11.5 million hardcover copies of "Goblet of Fire" in print, at about 760 pages with a $25.95 cover price.)
The movies now account for much of the growth in the already extraordinary popularity of the books. Barbara Marcus, president of children's books at Scholastic, said that more than half of the 80 million Harry Potter books in print in the United States were sold in the last three years, when film versions of the first two books were released. The biggest jump, she said, came with the release of the first film, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
"In our world, not everyone is a reader first," she said. "There are people who go to movies and then realize there is a book."
Although Ms. Rowling knowingly sold the film and merchandising rights to Warner Brothers, a unit of AOL Time Warner, she has often worried aloud that movies and merchandising might overshadow or cheapen her stories. "I would do anything to prevent Harry from turning up in fast-food boxes everywhere," she said in an interview three years ago. "I would do my utmost. That would be my worst nightmare." (He is not in fast-food boxes yet, but he is in Coca-Cola ads.)
Even some young fans now roll their eyes at the flood of Harry Potter products, from lunch boxes to souvenir stones. "None of the kids are crazy about it," said Emma Bradford, 9, of Brattleboro, Vt. "Some people say how stupid it is that they are coming out with Harry Potter toothbrushes and things like that. I think they should just stop with the books and movies, otherwise it just goes sort of overboard into a more Disney thing."
Diane Nelson, the senior vice president of Warner Brothers in charge of marketing for Harry Potter, said the studio would deliberately lay low during the book's publication "primarily out of respect for Jo Rowling's wishes to keep the movies and the books separate so that the books can be appreciated for their own integrity."
For example, the toy makers Mattel, Hasbro and Lego encourage stores to promote their products along with DVD's of the Harry Potter films by including coupons for the toys or by displaying them together, but agreements with Warner Brothers preclude any coupons or toy promotions tied directly to the books.
Still, that does not stop retailers from doing anything they can to sell Harry Potter knickknacks and candy along with each book. Discounters, toy stores and retailers that do not specialize in books now account for the majority of sales of many blockbusters like Harry Potter.
Chains like Wal-Mart, as well as the major bookstore chains and online stores, all plan to sell the new book at discounts of as much as 40 percent off the cover price nearly the same as the wholesale cost in part because they hope to sell shoppers other goods. And almost all will be displaying the new books surrounded by Potter paraphernalia.
Roughly 1,300 Wal-Mart stores, for example, will hold special midnight events for the release, including food from the stores' bakeries decorated with a Harry Potter theme and coordinated displays of Harry Potter toys, clothing and DVD's, said Karen Burke, a spokeswoman for the chain.
The flagship Toys "R" Us store in Times Square has already arranged two designated Harry Potter zones near its entrance piled high with Legos, action figures, candy, DVD's and copies of the previous books. It, too, will reopen at midnight with an event for the new book's release.Jim Dale, who narrates the audio editions of the Harry Potter books, will read there and Scholastic has provided exclusive signed editions of a Harry Potter poster by Mary GrandPré, who illustrates the books.
At the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which makes a version of Harry Potter's magical
Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans flavors include ear wax, vomit, "boogers"
and grass salesmen have reminded retailers that the publication of the
new book is "a tremendous opportunity to have our product on their shelves,"
said Pete Healy, vice president of marketing. He said Jelly Belly has expanded
its business by selling Bertie Botts beans to hundreds of bookstores for sale
in tandem with the books.
Jim Dale, who narrates the audio editions of the Harry Potter books, will read there and Scholastic has provided exclusive signed editions of a Harry Potter poster by Mary GrandPré, who illustrates the books.
At the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which makes a version of Harry Potter's magical Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans flavors include ear wax, vomit, "boogers" and grass salesmen have reminded retailers that the publication of the new book is "a tremendous opportunity to have our product on their shelves," said Pete Healy, vice president of marketing. He said Jelly Belly has expanded its business by selling Bertie Botts beans to hundreds of bookstores for sale in tandem with the books.
Jenie Carlen, a spokeswoman for the bookstore and music chain Borders, said its stores have sought "creative ways" to sell the products while respecting Ms. Rowling's wishes. For example, she said, in some stores it uses three-sided displays, with Harry Potter books on one side, CD's of the soundtracks and audio books on another, and DVD's on a third. Its stores sell the Bertie Botts beans in its cafes. But at Scholastic's behest, she said, Borders does not mention any other products in its advertisements featuring the book.
Amazon.com, which offers over 480 Harry Potter products, has reaped a windfall of publicity by beginning to take orders in January, posting a Harry Potter countdown and an hourly total of the orders. Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore company, and its Web site, bn.com, are raffling off a five-night trip to England, and its stores will hold their own midnight events.
Other authors and publishers are also hoping to take advantage of the publicity, even some who might be suspicious about the Harry Potter marketing juggernaut. Verso, which recently published "The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter," a Marxist analysis of the phenomenon by the British scholar Andrew Blake, is writing to stores and setting up interviews for Mr. Blake to coincide with the release of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
Richard Abanes, whose "Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick," argued that the books can lead children toward the occult, says he is seeking interviews and is meeting with Christian booksellers to promote his follow-up, "Fantasy and Your Family."
Facing competition from the large chains selling copies of the books at discounts they often cannot afford, independent bookstores are resorting to increasingly theatrical events to get attention.
The Northern Lights Books and Gifts store in Duluth, Minn., is holding a party in a defunct train station, where a working train will pull in at midnight loaded with books. The Book House in St. Louis is creating a haunted house in its Victorian building.
In Manhattan, the Books of Wonder children's bookstore, on 18th Street, has arranged for a magician and two live owls. At Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the owner is making her own chocolate frogs and bringing in her four-foot-long pet iguana.
Perhaps the most elaborate event is in Oak Park, Ill., near Chicago, where the Magic Tree bookstore has enlisted two dozen local businesses and organizations and more than 30 volunteers to turn its neighborhood into a giant homage to the books. Some attractions include tours of a local bank's vault by clerks dressed as goblins, giant chess games where humans move as pieces on command, and a campy miniature golf course billed as an exhibit for the study of "muggles" nonmagical people in the parlance of the books.
Thanks to promotion it received on Mugglenet.com, a Web site for Harry Potter fans, the Magic Tree expects more than 5,000 people to turn up, said Debbie Mitchell, the employee organizing the event.
"It is getting harder and harder for us," Ms. Mitchell said, noting that a Borders store had recently opened up a few miles away. "That is part of the reason we are doing this, to help us stand out."