Saturday, July 21, 2007

Me and Harry Potter

My first, and if Rowling is to be believed, my last, Harry Potter Party is over. I arrived at the local Barnes & Noble last night to find something that reminded me of a strange combination of the worst of last minute Christmas shopping, Halloween, and a slumber party. By the time that I walked into the store just after 9:30 p.m., it was already jammed with more people than I ever dreamed I would see in a bookstore at one time.

And that's when the real impact of Harry Potter hit me. It's one thing to read about those fantastic sales numbers and to watch the internet frenzy that has been steadily building over the last few days. It's quite another to join the crush of folks from one small section of suburban Houston as they gathered to finally get their hands on that final Potter book. My first impression was that fewer folks were in costume than I had expected to see, and that continued to be the case for the rest of the evening. But they were there in all ages - from two-year olds to 70-year olds and it was interesting to see how they settled in, made themselves comfortable, and waited for the midnight hour to finally arrive.

I was a bit surprised, considering the fact that most of them live close to this Barnes & Noble, that more people didn't go home after receiving the "bracelets" that designated their place in line. The bracelets were lettered A-Z and each group was numbered so that everyone knew exactly where his place in line would be. But folks preferred to stay for the duration of the wait and made themselves comfortable on the floor with a book or let their kids play some of the games at tables manned by Barnes & Noble staff.

I took this picture about 11:00 when I was walking back to the bookstore after having a snack and a bit of a rest at a table in front of the grocery store that shares the same parking lot. A few folks preferred to stand outside the store, despite the high humidity of the evening, rather than trying to find a spot inside.

This is representative of what it was like to try to walk around in the store by the time that I arrived. It never seemed to get much worse than this, actually, so I suppose that most everyone was there by 9:00 when the scheduled events started to happen.

But as this and the following pictures show, walking around the store soon became almost impossible as people began to find their parking spots for the wait. Shopping to kill the time soon became impossible and most people seemed to grab something off the shelves and settle down with that one book.

In the meantime, while all this library reading was happening, this is what the checkout line usually looked like, confirming my suspicion that very few books other than the Harry Potter one being sold at something near cost were going to go out the door this evening.

The coffee/snack shop in the store did do a booming business all night long, however, with a long line that seemed to move slowly but steadily for most of the night, so all was not lost at the cash registers.

I did spot this 8-year old Harry Potter lookalike who was kind enough to let me snap his picture. I enjoyed a long talk with his father about reading and how he encouraged his two boys to read every day for at least one hour.

There was face-painting...

and shell games with prizes for the kids.

Then at ten minutes to midnight all the cash registers were manned, the books were pre-bagged, and the first few people in line were allowed to move into place in front of one of the booksellers. The countdown started, the last ten seconds seeming like a New Years Eve countdown, and I swear that I saw tears in a few eyes.

And first out the door, after what I think was about a 7-hour wait for her, was this young lady who paused long enough for me to grab her picture.

I had to pick something up at the grocer's on the way home so I stopped off at a Kroger's store where I found that I had just missed the rush there for Potter books. I heard the manager tell someone on the telephone that they sold 130 copies of the book pretty quickly. He seemed pleased with that number, and I think that the people who bought their book at Kroger's may have been the wisest shoppers of the night. On the way out the door I picked up a souvenir of the evening:

So there you have it. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but in some ways the evening was more impressive than I imagined it would be. When I think that this very thing took place in thousands of locations all over the world last night it sort of boggles my mind. What a marketing feat these publishers have managed to pull off. I'm impressed.


  1. I confess you were braver than I was in terms of being willing to venture into a bookstore for the Grand Hallows Ball (as Borders was referring to the party).

    I've been posting all morning about waiting for my Amazon order to show. It must be stuck in someone's queue somewhere.

  2. Jill, I don't think I'd have done it if I didn't have this blog. It was interesting, not much fun, and I didn't even buy a book. I'm not a Potter fan...but I couldn't resist grabbing an empty packing box since I'd seen pictures of them (filled) all over the web. :-)

    Good luck on the book. The mails must be flooded today with Potter books looking for a home.

  3. What impresses me is that you have a major book store next to your grocery store. All I have is a little used book shop filled to the gills with romance/sci-fi/fantasy. On the other hand, maybe that's a good thing. I might starve otherwise.

  4. That does tend to save me some extra driving, Sylvia. :-)

  5. Interesting - our party seemed fairly different from yours. For one, we had a ton of costumed people. Secondly, and this one baffles me, there's no way on earth we could have had the books pre-bagged. We were not allowed, under any circumstances, to open those boxes before midnight.

    Anywho, I quickly wrote up a little blog of our party last night, if you're intersted.

  6. Annie, I read your party description over on your blog a few minutes ago. You're right; it sounds completely different from the one here.

    They didn't open the book boxes early but they had more "baggers" than they had cashiers, so as everyone came up to the register to pay they were handed an already bagged book and just had to be processed and sent on their way. They had quite an assembly line going there for a while. I left just a few minutes after midnight but I can only imagine the disaster that was left behind for the clean up staff.

  7. Question for ya - what are you going to do with the box? A lot of people were asking for the boxes from us and I for the life of me I couldn't figure out why.

    It'll make a soggy plant pot.

  8. j.anne - I guess everyone has a fantasy of selling it on ebay - one day :-)

    Love the reportage, Sam. I got into mild trouble today from The Son for not having bought it yet (we're still reading #6 as you know). I'm waiting to get to K Mart of one of the other big discounters. This is one time an indy bookseller ain;t getting full cover price from me!!

  9. My husband and kids went to a party/event at Barnes & Noble, and I would imagine it looked much like what your experience did. But my kids didn't have that much fun. They liked people-watching--I guess there were a lot of costumed adults and kids there--but it was too crowded for them to do any of the activities. So for an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old, it was kind of a bust. Because though they were excited about getting a book, waiting in line doesn't thrill them. But I agree with John--the wonders of capitalism!

  10. I really have no plans for the box, Annie. It just seemed like a nice prop to finish up this particular posting and it was laying by the door when I left the grocery store. In fact, two of them were crammed so tightly together that I just took the two with me instead of taking the time to pry them apart.

  11. Hmmm, e-Bay sounds like a possibility, Sally. Considering the mass hysteria that I witnessed on Friday night, I don't doubt for a minute that those boxes would sell there. :-)

  12. I took several marketing and advertising classes while in school, Gentle Reader, and I'm more impressed with Rowling's marketing people than with anything else having to do with Harry Potter. Those guys are genius. John and you are entirely correct.

  13. Unlike you I only thought about going to my local Potter party. When it came down to it I was much to lazy to go seeing as how I wasn't actually going to buy a book. I still kind of wish I had gone just to take some pictures. Guess I'll just enjoy yours.

  14. Matt, I don't think I'll ever do this kind of thing again. Once is definitely enough, but I would have kicked myself for missing this last roundup.

  15. I had similar thoughts, about seeing the gathering for a book release really driving home just what an impact these books have had. My town has one bookstore and one library, and they went all out with huge, free parties, drawings, movies, etc. It was definitely the social event of the weekend, and it felt like everyone in town was there!

  16. Dewey, I'm still kind of astounded by how much the world slowed down all at the same time because of a BOOK. That may never happen again.