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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Protecting the Potter magic

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The Order of the Phoenix
The Order of the Phoenix: Eagerly awaited by millions worldwide
Almost 8,000 copies of the fifth Harry Potter book were stolen on Sunday - BBC News Online examines the unprecedented security around the launch of the book.

Police and publishers Bloomsbury say anyone caught trying to sell - or even buy - any of the books stolen on Sunday could face criminal charges.

Anyone who publishes any details from the book is also liable to prosecution - there is an injunction in the UK stopping anyone from revealing in print any of the plot.

And earlier this month, forklift driver Donald Parfitt was fined and sentenced to community service for stealing pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and offering them to national newspapers.

The release of the book is surrounded by security unprecedented in the publishing world, with plot details jealously guarded up to the minute the book goes on sale - 0001 BST Saturday 21 June.

Amazon.co.uk, the internet bookselling giant, has more than 300,000 copies at a "secure" dedicated warehouse in Milton Keynes, ready to send to UK buyers for Saturday.

A spokeswoman from the internet seller would not go into details about security, other than to say they were "extensive".

Donald Parfitt
Donald Parfitt was found guilty of stealing a copy of the book
For those not buying over the internet, copies will only arrive in bookstores on Friday night, hours before the midnight launch.

Booksellers and industry figures say the embargo conditions from publisher Bloomsbury are like nothing they have seen.

"The security is unprecedented," says George Grey, children's book buyer at UK book chain Waterstones.

"But you would expect it with a book that has this demand.

Penalties

"Our books are arriving in sealed boxes. We need to keep them locked off from the shop floor until 12 o'clock.

"We have to make sure the customers can't get to them, and the staff can't get to them, apart from the one person who has the key."

The embargo conditions do not mention, Grey said, what would happen if they were not met.

Review copies - if they are being sent out at all before publication - will probably arrive only the day beforehand, a senior literary editor at a Sunday broadsheet newspaper told BBC News Online.

"Possibly we'll get it the Friday beforehand. Our pages for that Sunday's section have already gone to the presses.

She said the embargo was the strictest she had seen.

"Usually when there's an embargo you can sign a form and they'll let you have a copy of the book a decent time ahead of it being released."

J K Rowling
JK Rowling has refused to give away details of the plot
The editor said that reviewers having to speed-read the book in time for their Saturday or Sunday deadlines were facing a difficult task - the book has more than 800 pages.

BBC News Online will be facing the same problem - our reviewer will have to queue with the public on Friday night in order to get a copy of the book, but we aim to publish one of the UK's first reviews on Saturday.

The books are translated into 55 languages, but translators are also not allowed to see the book before 21 June, with the result that non-English speaking countries will have to wait to read the book until it is translated.

The uncompromising safeguards have their beginnings in 2000, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire became the fastest-selling book in history in its first weekend on sale.

It catapulted what was already becoming a massively successful brand into a global sensation.

It is a sensation that has now had to deal with rip-offs, such as the Russian parody Tanya Grotter, which Rowling's lawyers managed to prevent from being printed in Western Europe.

Bloomsbury clearly feels its measures are not without good cause.

A spokeswoman told BBC News Online it would not comment on its security procedures.

"We will have more Harry Potter books coming out in the future so we will not discuss security," she said.

Sentence

Nicholas Clee, the editor of trade journal Bookseller, said he had seen such stringent measures for a book's release only a few times before.

"The pressure has become even greater. I can't remember an embargo like this," he said.

"The book industry is used to embargoes. There will always be hot properties... but there is a lot more riding on this.

"I think two million copies of this book have been printed to be sent into the shops for the midnight openings. I've not seen anything like that for a work of fiction, ever."

So is this just hype?

"Part of it is building up the hype, obviously," he said.

"But I think part of the reason is that the millions of children and adults who feel that it would be spoiled if there wasn't a massive event on the night."




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