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New Heights For Harry
Shannon Maughan -- 4/17/00
Film director chosen, publication date set for fourth book

The boy phenom will soon
become a film star.
After three books that have, in some combination, dominated bestseller lists for more than a year and a half, and a firestorm of media attention, it might seem old-hat to refer to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter as a phenomenon. But the term is still accurate, as Rowling's young wizard continues to blaze through uncharted territory, setting new benchmarks for popularity wherever he g s. Here, we catch up with the latest on Harry, including numerous licensing and rights deals, and the progress of the much-anticipated fourth book in the Potter series.

Back in the fall of 1998, David Heyman of Heydey Films in London (in conjunction with Warner Bros.) purchased film rights to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, just before the books hit U.S. shores. The studio paid an undisclosed seven-figure sum to create one film based on the first two books of Rowling's series and to secure worldwide licensing rights to the property. Heyman has said that screenwriter Steve Cloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys) is carefully preserving the books' original flavor, which, in part, means adhering to Rowling's stipulation that the film be live-action and (purportedly) that the role of Harry be played by a British actor.
Rowling plans to stay closely involved
with the movie's production.
In recent weeks, Hollywood was buzzing about the impending production of the Harry Potter film. Director Steven Spielberg was said to be mulling it over as his next project, while a shortlist of other big-time directors was also bandied about. When Spielberg eventually declined to take the helm (reportedly because he would not have the creative carte blanche he often has on his films), the buzz again reached fever pitch. On March 28, it was announced that director Chris Columbus (whose film Mrs. Doubtfire, incidentally, was also adapted from a British children's book) had won the coveted job. The studio is tentatively planning to release the film in summer 2001.

Mattel and Hasbro are two companies that are hoping Warner Bros. sticks to that release date, or even bumps it up, as they are the first official Harry Potter toy licensors, with plans to begin releasing product lines this fall. Mattel will produce a line of toys based on characters from the books/movie and Hasbro has plans to produce Harry Potter electronic toys, collector's cards and candy through several of its subsidiaries. The first rollout of merchandise will be based on the books and will be sold exclusively in Warner Bros. Studio Stores for a period of time this fall. Closer to the holiday season, the merchandise will receive selective placement in other retail outlets (which include specialty and gift stores). A second phase of merchandise will be introduced to coincide with the film's release in 2001.

Other rights spun off from the Potter books include those for audiobook productions, which have been procured by Listening Library, now the children's audio imprint of Random House Audio. Harry's wizardry school exploits have proved magic to listeners' ears thus far, with last October's unabridged adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, read by veteran British actor Jim Dale, garnering outstanding sales as well as a Grammy nomination. Audiobooks two and three, also read by Dale, were released in November 1999 and February 2000, respectively. The three Potter audiobooks combined (available on both cassette and CD) have shipped more than 500,000 copies and earned spots on PW's audio bestseller list. Listening Library will also be producing the fourth installment, and publisher Tim Ditlow said, "We're doing everything we possibly can to have the fourth audiobook out by Scholastic's publication date."

The Book Is the Thing

Sure, all the hoopla over Harry's film debut and licensing deals is exciting, but it takes nothing away from the continued astounding performance of Rowling's books. To date, Scholastic reports that there are 19.8 million copies in print of its editions of Harry's adventures, a grouping that so far includes the first three hardcovers as well as the paperback edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The Scholastic paperback edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is due August 15, but no first printing figure has been announced. Scholastic ought to think high, if the recent release of the British paperback Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is any indication. A few weeks ago, children all over Britain were once again rushing to their local bookstores, this time hoping to purchase one of the 900,000 paperback copies of Prisoner of Azkaban that began shipping to stores the last week in March. Bloomsbury, Rowling's British publisher, announced that the print run was the company's largest ever for a children's book. As of April 3, British booksellers reported that the latest incarnation of the Rowling title was outselling, by a five-to-one margin, all other children's books combined.

But what of Book Four in Harry's saga? Scholastic has confirmed that the fourth installment, currently said to be more than 700 pages long, with a retail price of $25.95, will hit store shelves in both the U.S. and the U.K. on Saturday, July 8, though they declined to release first printing numbers. According to the Bookseller, the U.K. edition has a first printing of one million copies (including 400,000 for book clubs) and will retail for £14.99.

To say that fans are eagerly awaiting it is an understatement. Tentatively titled Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament, the book has been in the number one spot (or at least in the top five) on Amazon. com's bestseller list for months. As for plot points, Rowling seems to be following her earlier hints that the books will become increasingly darker as Harry matures. She has said that in Book Four, Harry will confront death. But lest readers be concerned about things getting too heavy, Rowling has also intimated that Harry will discover girls in this latest work.

For the subsequent Potter books, Scholastic expects that a new hardcover will be published each fall. If only Harry could concoct a spell that grants patience for his fans...
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