June 21, 2003
Harry Potter Craziness
This morning, at 12:01 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was unleashed upon children and those young at heart. With little trouble you should be able to find plenty of reports on Harry Potter Mania all over the world. But here, for you, is this humble correspondent's report from the center of the publishing whirlwind.
I arrived at 6:00 pm yesterday evening. It was quiet, too quiet. If you walked in at that time you'd never expect the swarms of people who would be there in just a few hours.
Above, you see a few thousand books waiting to be read by eager readers all over the Milwaukee area.
Expecting people to sit in line for hours waiting for the book (Greg Packer wannabes no doubt) my store had a system where customers who pre-ordered the book would get a colored ticket. The color would determine when they would be in line. The order went just like the color spectrum--Roy G. Biv--red, then orange, then yellow, and so on. That solved that problem.
Besides dealing with the biggest crowds I've ever seen in the store, our biggest concern/question had to do with people wanting copies of the book when they didn't pre-order it. My store alone took over 2000 pre-orders--one of the best performances of any store in the company--so we weren't sure there would be any left after all the orders were taken. With all the media hype in the past months and weeks, I was surprised that so many people thought they would be able to just call a bookstore and expect a book, but many did. A mild let down was delivered when I told them the chance of getting a book today were slim, but I would be glad to order a copy for them when a new shipment arrived.
Throughout the night the phone rang constantly with questions about the book's availablity and what games and events we were having. People came and went, but didn't hang around until 9:00. My boss and I figured people went to see a movie (my store is part of a mall with a theater) then came to get their book. First Hulk, then Harry.
By 10:00, people arrived to take part in Harry Potter trivia games, indoor quidich, and having their picture taken with the young wizard himself (my gig). Just walking through the store became a course filled with living, breathing, and moving human obstacles. The constant motion of answering phones, getting materials for events, and preparing for the book sale all the while avoiding people had me wiping my brow a few times.
At around 11:30, the first group of people was allowed into lines by our cash registers. I got the job of trying to get them to form orderly lines and keep things moving smoothly. I was in the mass, in the middle of the beast making sure it didn't get out of control. My boss got worried because he couldn't see me in the crowd. The customers were in good spirits. Many of the kids told me they were waiting for this moment for years. I figured their yearning for the next book started a week after they finished the fourth Harry Potter book. A few chit-chatted with me about how wild an event this was.
The clock ticked away, and finally 12:01 came and the fifth Harry Potter book was set free. I was doing alright. The adrenaline was flowing; I was feeding off the energy of the crowd. I directed people to a cash register where they got their book and made sure there was room so people could get out of everybody else's way.
Eventually, the energy rush faded. Making sure people stay in some sort of line and not butt in front of each other was hard work. After about an hour, I was getting tired, but there wasn't much I could do because a few hundred people were still in line. One customer told me it was hot, hot like at a concert. When you get a lot of people together in a small area, the temperature rises. Thankfully, people's temper didn't.
The colors were called out, people quickly got in line, and received their books. Even a few lucky ones who just stopped by hoping to buy one lucked out. Anyone who came to the store wanting a book ended up with one. There were plenty of happy customers and some very tired booksellers.
As you can see, the stacks were diminished, and tired booksellers went home.
On my way home, I stopped by a Wal-Mart open 24 hours to see how the Potter Mania was.
The store was still in one piece. Inside, I saw two small pallets of books. I asked a cashier how it was this morning, and she told me it was pretty crazy.
After going through last night/this morning I'm tempted to knock off J. K. Rowling before she finishes another book. Or for something less cruel to all her fans (killing her would be like killing George Lucas before he finishes the Star Wars series) I want Harry Potter #6 to be a digital download only.