“In a short time,” says the diary entry on J.K.Rowling’s official website, “you will know EVERYTHING!” But this precious anticipation, to be kept up carefully until Saturday’s launch of the new Harry Potter novel, may have been ruined already by the internet. Some websites have been offering digital photographs and downloads of the entire book days in advance of the hallowed midnight launch. The leaks may not be authentic, and there are multiple versions. But some fans who know their HP stylometrics like the backs of their hands seem to feel that they have been able to read the real thing. But however desperately Ms Rowling’s British and American publishers may be fighting to suppress these websites, everybody knows that the internet cannot be beaten when it comes to such mischief. It is the best medium for those “sad individuals”, as Ms Rowling puts it, “who get their kicks from ruining other people’s fun”. But the power of such a trick also tells a great deal about the kind of “fun” these books promise: an unprecedented mix of global hype and narrative suspense. Hence, the pointlessness of discussing the quality of Ms Rowling’s prose or whether her books have been generally good for children’s reading habits. Neither really matters. The point is to get one’s copy the first thing after midnight tomorrow, and find out what happens next.
The build-up has been phenomenal. The pre-orders are breaking all records. In Britain, it is expected that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will sell, on its first day, more than half as many copies as the total number of books sold in the entire British book market in an average week. The publisher’s embargo contract with retailers has been one of the strictest, with a media litigation specialist poised 24 hours, seven days a week, to issue injunctions. The books have been kept in guarded warehouses and will be delivered by vans tracked by satellites. The printer of the British edition has installed barbed wire around its site and hired extra guards to search workers as they leave work. Royal Mail has taken six months to plan how 180 extra trucks and an additional train service will distribute the pre-ordered books from retailers’ warehouses to delivery offices across Britain. Postmen and women will then deliver each edition by hand on foot, bikes or in vans. But the internet is quicker.