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Heads-Up for Harry
Shannon Maughan -- 6/26/00

For those who haven't heard (could there be anyone left?), the countdown to the July 8 release of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter IV from Scholastic has begun in earnest. On Saturday, June 24, two weeks before the book's laydown date, Scholastic's order-fulfillment operations (including customer service, credit and collection, sales reporting and order entry) was turned over to HarperCollins from previous partner Penguin Putnam. Scholastic titles will continue to be warehoused in and shipped from the company's Jefferson City, Mo., facility.

But how will the fulfillment switch affect the many booksellers (and fans) awaiting the whopping 3.8 million first printing of Harry Potter IV? According to Scholastic senior v-p of trade books Michael Jacobs, the company is "very confident" that booksellers won't feel a thing.

"This was a long-lead decision," Jacobs said of the new fulfillment arrangement. "We had to give 12 months' notice that we were making a change, and have been doing a lot of systems testing ever since. Penguin Putnam has been very cooperative about supplying HarperCollins with all the information we have needed. And we have a dedicated project manager who has been working scrupulously on the Harry Potter part of the transition for a while now."

Changing systems on a Saturday is a strategic move that can only help quell bookseller concerns. "We're switching on a weekend to allow us a few extra days of working with the new systems, but we feel fairly certain that all the kinks have been ironed out," Jacobs said. In addition, he cited the creation of the Harry Potter IV Help Desk (800-558-8341), available to booksellers who want to check on their orders. "We wanted to assure booksellers that we are taking every possible measure to ensure their orders will arrive on time," Jacobs added.

The sheer volume of books being printed for July 8, which includes additional copies of the three current titles as well as the new one, has required that Scholastic employ numerous presses and "eight or nine" binderies, according to Jacobs. But even with all those books on the way, Jacobs is not overly concerned about booksellers putting the book on-sale before the official witching hour. "We have booksellers sign affidavits saying they will adhere to the laydown date, which is pretty standard when you are talking about any potential bestseller," he said. "Unless booksellers sign it, we won't guarantee that they'll have books in time."

And when it comes to keeping track of who might be breaking the rules, Jacobs added, "The marketplace polices itself. If we hear of any substantiated case of selling the books early, that bookseller will receive no subsequent shipments of Harry Potter books. I think everyone realizes that the stakes are high."

Amazon is taking a strong position on that playing field, too, trying to go head-to-head with bricks-and-mortar stores. The first 250,000 customers who pre-order Harry Potter IV (more than 186,000 pre-orders have been placed at press time) on Amazon.com will get a free shipping upgrade to FedEx overnight delivery, ensuring arrival on Saturday, July 8.

Audiobook fans should note that Jim Dale's narration of Harry Potter IV from Random House/Listening Library (all 20 1/2 hours of it) will make its debut simultaneously with the book. The first printing (which includes both cassette and CD formats) is 200,000, the largest ever for a children's audiobook title, said Listening Library publisher Tim Ditlow. "The Saturday date is a little difficult as a release date," he added. "But Random House is so used to laydown dates on embarg d titles that this falls in the normal course of business."
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