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Last Updated: Friday, 20 July 2007, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
The Potter lockdown
By Clare Davidson
Business reporter, BBC News

Grocers are not usually candidates for a top-level security operation - except, of course, for the vans carrying the takings to the bank.

Previous Harry Potter launch party
Thousands of Potter fans have already preordered the book

Asda, though, is reportedly at the centre of just such a vast, shadowy and high-cost system involving codes, security cameras, satellite tracking systems and specially-trained guards.

Not to protect its food, that is.

Instead, this is the latest twist in the Harry Potter phenomenon: one that requires the next and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to arrive at Asda stores shrouded in the utmost secrecy.


Anyone would think - judging by the nervous voice adopted by Asda's press officer - that one was asking about something highly illegal, poisonous, libellous or possibly all three, rather than a highly popular children's book.

But Asda, which has ordered 1.5 million copies of the book is far from alone.

Amazon UK, for its part, has preordered some 2 million copies, and has also adopted carefully-crafted plans to make sure its fans do not have access to the 608-page tome before midnight on Friday.

In fact, some estimates put the cost of keeping the seventh tome in the Potter series away from prying eyes ahead of its official release at 10m.

Part of that cost covers the arrangements for dedicated warehousing, involving 24-hour protection and even guard dogs.

In the dark

Neither Amazon, nor Asda - nor the book's UK publisher, Bloomsbury - would say when the books would actually arrive at different sites.

Neither would they say where from, though distribution via specially-outfitted trucks is said to have started as early as Tuesday.

Potter display in a bookstore
Images of the book have allegedly been online before the launch

But anecdotes in the press have highlighted the lengths to which the publisher, Bloomsbury, has apparently gone to make sure the release date stays sacrosanct.

Apocryphal, perhaps - but reports have said that in Germany the publishers have been ordered to work in the semi-dark, so that no-one can be lured into dipping into the book ahead of time.

And in the UK, printing employees have been warned that they could be jobless if they reveal any details.

"The publisher has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the content," said Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, adding that he had never seen such a level of secrecy around a book.

US breach

But despite the worldwide security operations, some 1,200 readers in the US have been sent the books early - by mistake.

According to UK book industry site, US publisher Scholastic has confirmed that Levy Home Entertainment and had both sent out the book before they were meant to.

Till now, of course, the publishers have had at their disposal the ultimate weapon: the threat that anyone who broke the embargo might not get the next Potter blockbuster.

Obviously, that sanction no longer applies.

But author JK Rowling has said she plans to continue writing - albeit not about Harry, Hogwarts and the like - so booksellers may not want to take any risks.

And the fans are likely to forgive all the cloak-and-dagger surrounding the supply chain, so long as they get this final fix on time.

The security operation surrounding the release


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