Three days from now Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series, will be released to eager fans who have already begun lining up in front of bookstores to purchase their copy. Television, radio, newspapers, and especially the Internet are awash with stories ranging from plot spoilers to how little booksellers will actually profit from the huge sales of the book.
Much has been written about the sheer numbers associated with the book’s release. There are many aspects of this final Potter novel that will set records that may never be broken. The announced 12 million copy first printing will almost surely never be duplicated, and the same is likely true for the 1 million pre-order copies already taken by online retailer Amazon.com.
It is estimated that over 7 million books will sell in the first 24 hours, and with all of the “Potter Release Parties” springing up all over the country, even that projection may be too conservative. Of course, having already sold 325 million copies worldwide of the first six books, Rowling may see these amazing numbers as very ordinary.
Many booksellers, both nationwide chains and independent stores, have lamented that the mammoth sales of the Harry Potter books rarely translate into the purchase of other books. The upcoming release of Deathly Hallows notwithstanding, book sales in retail brick-and-mortar stores, especially independently owned stores, have declined considerably over the past several years. But this could easily be attributed to the proliferation of online booksellers and resellers like Half-Price Books that have brisk sales that are not counted in the overall sales total of a particular title. Regardless, this still misses the point of what makes Harry Potter so special in the publishing world.
There is one crucial aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon that has been overlooked during the media crush. For ten years now, J.K. Rowling and her boy wizard have done something many thought impossible: they have made reading cool again, for adults as well as children. Prior to 1997, who would have imagined that millions of children would attempt to read an 800-page book in one sitting, or that their parents would be anxiously waiting for them to finish reading so they could start?
With the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling opened up a world of imagination to a generation of kids who thought for anything to be entertaining it had to have a plug, a screen, or an Internet connection. And these kids (and hopefully their parents as well) will keep reading, if only in the hope of finding another book or series that grabs them the way Harry Potter did. Even if Rowling never writes another word, people everywhere who love books owe her a debt of gratitude for making reading a novel something we, and more importantly our children, look forward to again.