From the numbers alone—10.8 million (copies) and 5,000 (opening-night parties)—it's clear that Harry Potter is a singular publishing event. But that doesn't mean it hasn't had a significant lasting effect. In ways both profound and subtle, the planned seven-book series has, over its eight-year life, done more than just delight kids (and bookstore accountants)—it's changed some of the fundamental mechanics of publishing. From creating unlikely children's authors to changing the way we think about bestsellers, the boy wonder has been unlike any force in publishing history.
With publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince just a few days away, we count down the seven ways (naturally) that Harry has changed the business.
7) Midnight Madness What the New York Times's N.R. Kleinfeld once called "a scrupulously choreographed, multicontinent extravaganza" seems self-evident now. But the idea of bookstores staying open past midnight to lure customers began in earnest in 2000, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Customers came for the prizes, the community, and, yes, the discounts. While a few had tried it before—Thomas Harris for Hannibal,for example—those efforts were relatively limited. Now? Many stores sell some of their biggest releases well after the stars come out.
6) The Global Pub Territorial rights used to mean something. Publishers released books in a country on their own terms, in their own time. But as American sales of the second Potter, The Chmaber of Secrets, leeched away to Amazon's British site, which had the book first, publishers had to do something. And so a new concept was born: the global publication. Forget sovereignty; all English-language publishers now would agree on the best single date that provided the greatest good to the greatest number of houses. Today the global one-day laydown is standard for big books, from Bill Clinton on down.
5) Rags-to-Witches Sure, Harper Lee, John Kennedy Toole and other writers had come from out of nowhere before. But when a Scottish welfare mother become richer than the Queen of England, a new standard was set. Agents say: thanks a lot. Authors? Many of the unknown and unassuming—from Dan Brown to Yann Martel to Daniel Handler—have followed Jo Rowling's trajectory. And with the jackpot higher, advances for buzzy books have risen, while author motivation has also increased in kind.
4) British Invasion When Potter was first offered for sale to American houses in the mid-'90s, it had gotten so you'd rarely see a British import. "A fantasy novel set in an English boarding school?" recalls Arthur Levine, head of his own imprint at Scholastic. " 'It'll never work here,' they said." Now American editors are back to routinely peeking, and pecking, at U.K. lists, and across all age ranges. Witness the tidal waves that are Eats, Shoots and Leaves, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Timeand Artemis Fowlwashing over from the other side of the Atlantic. "Scholastic certainly didn't invent the publishing strategy of looking globally," Levine said, "but Harry Potter was a big reminder that we should look globally."
3) The Children's Crusade Carl Hiaasen has done it. So have James Patterson, Michael Chabon and Isabel Allende. The number of adult authors who, inspired by specter of an unprecedentedly wide readership, have turned to writing young-adult books is staggering—almost as staggering as the amount children's publishing post-Potter contributes to the sales totals of major publishers. Last year, HarperCollins brought in an estimated $50 million for itself on Lemony Snicket alone, more than 5% of the company's annual sales.
2) Listing Toward Port Bestseller lists used to be simple. There were paperbacks and there were hardcovers. But in June 2000, with three Potter books sitting at the top of the Times hardcover list—and every publisher not named Scholastic grousing—the newspaper made a change. It launched a separate children's list, freeing up room on the main list and handing a gift to most of the children's world. (Though not Scholastic, which cried ghettoization; Barbara Marcus told PWat the time that she thought it "inconceivable that the bestselling book in America over this summer will not be listed anywhere on the Times bestseller list.")
No matter. The specialization was on. Soon other kids' bestseller lists were starting (PW'sactually had one since 1988) while other specialty lists were launched—and broadened. Today, even a narrative-heavy book like French Women Don't Get Fat and political tomes like Don't Think of an Elephantend up on the Times'sAdvice/ How-to list.
1) The Great (?) Embargo It's a distinctly modern phenomenon, and one for which, in many ways, we have Harry to thank—or blame. Ever since Scholastic's legal department lashed out at the Daily News and USA Today for advance coverage of Order of the Phoenix, publishers have been a lot more eager to embargo a new book—and newspapers a lot more motivated to seek one out. From the Clintons to Tom Wolfe, the consequences can't be underestimated: it has altered the normal rhythm of reviews, and, depending on who you are, provided a valuable publicity negotiation tool or a frustrating media obstacle.