Thursday, July 19, 2007

Big plans for Harry's farewell party

Saturday's release a bittersweet moment for fans, booksellers

Lynn Mitges, The Province
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kidsbooks co-owner Phyllis Simon says the Harry Potter books 'cultivate the notion that reading is cool in children and teens and young adults.'

The last time a Harry Potter book was released, there were 4,000 people on West Broadway in Kitsilano.

One group of teenage girls had camped out all day from 9 a.m. until the book's release at midnight at the Kidsbooks Vancouver branch.

Saturday is the last chance to witness an event that is unmatched in literary history and which certainly must have a touch of wizardry about it.

The Kidsbooks' Saturday-at-midnight release of Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows will take place at VanDusen Botanical Garden, which will be transformed into a fantastic kingdom. There will also be events at the branches in Kitsilano and North Vancouver.

"People who are going are there to celebrate," says Phyllis Simon, co-owner of Kidsbooks. "It's wonderful to be a part of it."

A $32 key will permit Muggles to enter a specially created Ministry of Magic and head toward the 12th locked door -- and open it.

At that point, the key can be exchanged for a copy of the hottest book on the planet.

If all goes well, there will be no leaked copies and no details revealed beforehand. Two years ago, 14 copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were mistakenly sold four days in advance of the book's release at a Coquitlam Superstore. A court injunction followed, barring recipients of the book from reading, copying, discussing or selling it. (All but one copy -- which was mailed to the U.S. and in transit when the release date arrived -- were returned to the store. A happy ending.)

The book is under tight security. Neither booksellers nor the Vancouver-based publishing house, Raincoast, will divulge any details about where the book is or will be.

Sorya Gaulin, vice-president of public relations at Indigo Books & Music, says their Midnight Madness event at about 130 locations across the country is carefully planned.

"Our staff sign almost an oath of confidentiality. Unlike other retailers, we will not do events that insinuate that books are here or there because it's really something that J.K. Rowling herself has said is hugely important. Once you identify a location, the risk of spoiling it all is much greater," she says.

"I think J.K. Rowling's decision and hope was that almost everybody around the world would get to unveil the story simultaneously, and that's a beautiful vision that we wish to respect and facilitate."

Indigo has big farewell celebrations planned at each venue with activities, potions, entertainers, musicians -- and the highlight is getting your hands on the book. Indigo has created a special stamp and will also have fans sign a thank-you book for Rowling. Once complete, the book will be shipped to the billionaire author in the U.K.

But the evening doesn't end with the book release.

"Kids just want to linger and talk and connect with others and experience this once-in-a-lifetime moment," says Gaulin, who likens the event to a previous generation's defining moment: The death of John F. Kennedy. "Now it will be 'Where were you when the last Harry Potter came out?'" she says.

Harry Potter has transformed literature. Period.

Simon says it's been rewarding to have the series validate what she and her staff have been saying for years.

"Here we are, all along saying books are terrific: read, read, read. Don't worry, the book is not dying -- and then this," says Simon.

"What it does is cultivate the notion that reading is cool in children and teens and young adults. And once that happens, they need to find more to read because you cannot make your diet on Harry Potter alone."

The series made Vancouver's Raincoast a household name. After more than 10 million copies sold, it must be a bittersweet moment for the independent publishing house.

"We always knew there were going to be seven books," says Jamie Broadhurst, Raincoast's director of marketing. "We always knew it would come to an end."

The series has forever changed the industry, says Broadhurst.

"The reason we focus on children's publishing is that we see double-digit growth and the reason we do, and no small part of that, is due to Harry Potter."

After a decade of Pottermania, several studies have cited an increase in children's reading as a direct result of the series. More boys are reading for fun, kids in general are into books again, specifically fantasy series -- and most kids say they will move on to a new series after the final Potter book.

"What we have found with Harry Potter is that children are reading more," says Broadhurst.

"Children are not intimidated by a long narrative. They're hungry for complexity."

Ten years ago no one would have predicted that a 700-page novel with a complicated plot, multiple characters and arcane detail would sell millions of copies. But kids -- and even adults -- are eating it up.

"Once you have that high, it's a good addiction," says Simon.

Potter Points
- The first Canadian order for the first Harry Potter book, Philosopher's Stone, came from Vancouver Kidsbooks.

- A bestseller in Canada is defined as a book that sells more than 5,000 copies. More than 10 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold in Canada.

- The first run of the first Harry Potter book in England had a press run of 3,000 copies.

- Upon release of The Half-Blood Prince, 6.9 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours.