Harry Potter fans, booksellers, and librarians are getting ready to party like it’s 2007.
Nine years ago this week, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling was published with all the attendant fanfare deserving of the seventh and final tome in the history-making series about a British boy wizard. That Potter magic is in the air again, as Scholastic preps to release, on July 31 (at 12:01 a.m.), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two (Scholastic/Levine).
The hardcover is a “script book” version of the theater production written by Jack Thorne, based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Thorne, and director John Tiffany, which opens in London’s West End July 30. “This is a huge, celebratory moment,” said Rachel Coun, executive marketing director and global brand management at Scholastic, who has worked on the Harry Potter series from the start. The first North American printing is 4.5 million copies.
To date, combined sales for the first seven Harry Potter books have reached 160 million copies sold in the U.S., and 450 million worldwide. The strict global on-sale date for Cursed Child is a strategy that has been in place since book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and adheres to Rowling’s wish, Coun explained, that “everybody gets to experience the magic at the same time.”
Coun added that the same extraordinary security measures put in place to keep previous Potter manuscripts from leaking have been deployed once again. Finished copies of Cursed Child are being kept under wraps (and lock-and-key).
The first reviews of the play out of London from American and British critics were overwhelmingly raves, with Variety calling it “spellbinding,” and a critic from the Daily Telegraph noting that “British theatre hasn’t known anything like it for decades and I haven’t seen anything directly comparable in all my reviewing days.” In Potter chronology, the play picks up where the Deathly Hallows epilogue left off, 19 years into Harry’s future, seeing him married to Ginny Weasley and father to their three children, one of whom—youngest son Albus—is set to begin his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
“When we first announced the book on February 10, there were people walking around literally in tears,” Coun said. “Many fans came into my office and told me how happy they were to have another Harry Potter story, and an opportunity to read about the beloved characters and their children.” Coun believes that Cursed Child will appeal to older adult fans and kids who grew up reading the first seven books as well as to a new generation of readers just entering Harry’s wizarding world.
Anticipation for the new book, billed as “the eighth Harry Potter story,” has been building since February, as have Scholastic’s promotional and marketing campaigns. “We started our ‘Relive the Magic’ campaign right after the announcement,” Coun said.
Beginning April 12, every two weeks a new gif of a favorite quote from each Harry Potter book was posted across social media under the hashtag #readthemagic. The publisher also has been hosting a Harry Potter Twitter Read-along (@Scholastic) featuring a two-week run of daily prompts specific to each book. According to Coun, the social media countdowns intentionally catered to a cross-generational audience.
Coun said that her team worked with booksellers on pre-order campaign materials that they could tailor to their customer bases. And pre-orders have made a strong showing for retailers across the board. On July 20, Amazon announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the top pre-order (print and Kindle) for 2016. The title also sits in the #1 spot on B&N Top 100 list, the Powell’s Bestsellers list at Powells.com, and on booksamillion.com, among other sites.
Scholastic employees and their children brought their pre-release enthusiasm for the new book to the streets on July 21, forming a flash mob, or “Muggle Mob,” more than 300 strong in front of the Scholastic headquarters building in lower Manhattan. For roughly two and a half minutes, the fans read from their favorite Harry Potter books, then stopped, lowered their books and held up paddles showing the cover of Cursed Child while a giant banner of the cover was unfurled along the building.
More than 5,000 bookstores and libraries will be hosting midnight parties to celebrate the release; Scholastic has created a Midnight Party Locator on its Harry Potter site to help people find a place to join the fun. Scholastic designed an activity trunk to provide booksellers and librarians with a bounty of party materials including trivia for all seven books, reproducible puzzles and games, and, giving a further shout-out to parties past, lightning bolt tattoos, and Meet Harry Potter vintage pins. “The Meet Harry Potter pins were the first item I ever created for Harry Potter,” recalled Coun. “We all wore them at BEA that first year . They have a nostalgic feel for fans who grew up with the books, but they also introduce it to a new audience.”
The kit also contains an oversize poster where fans can write “What Harry Potter Means to Me,” which mimics the Muggle Wall featured at this year’s BookCon where enthusiasts left thousands of signatures in just a couple of hours, according to Coun. And, of course, in addition to Scholastic’s official materials, bookstores and libraries are again in high creative gear putting their own magical spin on party fun. “We think the parties are going to bring together people of all ages,” Coun said: “those who are excited to see the Harry Potter characters again, and kids who haven’t met them yet.”
This morning Good Morning America aired a segment that looked back on the Harry Potter phenomenon, and included an interview with Arthur A. Levine, publisher of his eponymous imprint (and Harry Potter home) at Scholastic. And on July 28, the Today Show is hosting a Harry Potter Costume Contest where two grand prize winners will receive a copy of Cursed Child and a VIP trip to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The first 250 contest entrants will receive a set of the first seven Harry Potter books. A nationwide “Harry’s Back!” billboard campaign and ads in major newspapers as well as on NPR and Pandora round out more traditional marketing efforts.
Rowling’s World Expands Beyond ‘Cursed Child’
Though Cursed Child is helping to fuel the current resurgence of Harry Potter fever, it’s only one piece of Rowling’s ever-expanding wizarding world. Coun noted that the second illustrated Harry Potter title featuring the work of artist Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, will be released on October 4. “They’ve been incredibly embraced by fans,” said Coun of the newly illustrated editions, “and families are now introducing kids to the series with the illustrated books.”
And it’s been hard to miss the growing excitement over the Warner Bros. feature film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, with a screenplay by Rowling, which opens on November 18. In recent months Rowling has served up original writing and other teasers related to the film on Pottermore, her digital entertainment and e-commerce site. A new trailer debuted on July 23 during Comic-Con, introduced by the movie’s star, Eddie Redmayne. Earlier this year Scholastic announced a deal with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to publish children’s books based on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie and its sequels, as well as more tie-ins to the Harry Potter movie franchise, with the first titles being released in September. A hardcover edition of the Fantastic Beasts screenplay is due November 19. And Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the Definitive Edition is scheduled for publication in early 2017.
But for the next few days, all eyes are on Cursed Child. “I can’t wait to see the kids and families celebrating the release,” said Coun. “It’s a really exciting moment for all of us in the bookselling community.”