Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Say It Ain't So, JK

Jean Hannah Eddelstein, in her Guardian Unlimited blog today, points out an interesting campaign being run by the Waterstone's book chain in an attempt to get JK Rowling to continue her Harry Potter series. Eddelstein rightfully questions the motives of the Waterstone's effort to gather one million signatures by July 21 on a petition begging Rowling to reconsider ending the Potter books.

"There has never been a place like Hogwarts. There has never been a writer like JK Rowling. And there has never, ever been a character like Harry Potter. Millions, perhaps billions of us love reading his adventures, and we never want them to end."

This would be a rather sweet plea if it was drafted by the 8-11 year-olds who were originally the target demographic for the Harry Potter series. But that tell-tale "W" at the bottom of the website that touts itself as the epicentre of "the international campaign to SAVE HARRY!" betrays the truth: this crusade is brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood bookselling behemoth, Waterstone's.

Are they really trying to save Harry, or are they trying to save themselves?
...for Waterstone's, the end of Harry means the end of the guaranteed massive volumes of sales that they've made every time a new book in the series has been released. With no clear successor to the series on the horizon, I imagine that the company's strategy meetings are less than jolly these days as they scramble desperately to identify the next pot of mass market publishing gold.

Independent booksellers, on the other hand, will not be signing the petition. Although making the statement in polite bookish society that you're not keen on the Potter is tantamount to saying that you enjoy kicking adorable puppies, independent booksellers can't compete with the deep discounts that large retailers can sell the books at. Indeed, 25% of them won't be stocking book seven because they cannot afford it. The prospect of a publishing market that is not dominated by a single author and title each year or two must be extraordinarily appetising for them.
The Harry Potter phenomenon is really interesting to me when I consider the business aspects associated with moving that many millions of books in such a short period of time. It's been fun to watch all the bookstores and theaters position themselves for what they perceive to be one last shot at making a buck off of Harry and friends. But what's been most intriguing about all of this is the fact that so many booksellers lose money on a new Potter book and are probably hoping that Rowling really does kill the guy off in Book Seven.

Too much of a good thing often turns into a bad thing, and at this point, I've come to wonder if Rowling is not pulling the plug on Harry Potter at exactly the right moment. She is obviously ready to move on, and I have to hope that booksellers are as prepared for what comes next as she is.
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