Strange Brouhaha

Saturday, July 16, 2005

After Action Report: The Harry Potter Midnight Sale

When I broke down a few months ago and submitted to the herd instinct by placing a pre-order for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" at my local Barnes & Noble, I had no intention of going to the midnight festivities. We definitely did nothing of the sort for the fifth book, and for the fourth book, we were traveling on the day it was released.

So I was kind of surprised, at the beginning of this week, to find myself checking out the plans for the midnight festivities. I was even more surprised to find myself deciding to go.

As a process, it was very interesting. Barnes and Noble based the sales structure on numbered wristbands: people who had preordered the book got yellow wristbands, everyone else wore orange. The number on your wristband, I think, had nothing to do with when you preordered the book, but rather with when you showed up to pick up your wristband. It slipped my mind to pick up the wristband early in the day, and by the time I remembered to go in, I was wristband number 479.

The first 500 people got to wait in line in the store. Everyone else was outside. Summer in Wisconsin tends to be horribly muggy. I was glad to be 479.

All of the signs around the store sternly warned that if you were not in your assigned section of the store at 10:45, you would not be guaranteed a book, wristband or no. (This stricture turned out to be kind of informal.) They gathered us in groups of about 50, and at 11:00 started moving people out from the individual sections of the store to The Line Itself.

Here's where it gets interesting, and where I turned out to be glad to be in the "unlucky" last hundred. The group before mine was led to the back of the store, where the CD/DVD section is. My group followed them. Lo and behold, one of the nice ladies working the store said "Folks, you are in line to buy the book up here, not down at the main registers. Don't go anywhere." That's right: instead of being in a line with nearly 500 people in front of me, I was in a line with about 75 people in front of me.

After waiting in line there for half an hour, it surprisingly only took about 15 minutes for them to push all the people in front of me through the three registers they had set up. And as soon as I hit "Publish Post" on this post, I'm going to start reading.

So enough about the process. Let's talk about the environment.

Our Barnes and Noble is a very large, very wide-open store. I'm used to it now, more or less, but when we first started going there, it was a little overwhelming and nervous-making. Tonight, it was jammed full of people: people standing, people sitting, people walking, people talking to each other and to their cell phones, all sorts of people everywhere. There had to have been close to a thousand people, if not more.

People make me nervous.

As you can imagine, with all those people in one place, the temperature was high. It was better than being outside, but there was a noticeable temperature differential between certain areas of the store. Walking into the computer section, where the Sorting Hat was, was like hitting a solid wall of body heat. It was interesting to see which parts of the store did not have people camped out in the aisles: History, Military History, Sociology, and Biography. Everywhere else was slammed; I got a little antsy in the science fiction section when I suddenly found myself sealed in by people sitting at either end of the aisle, but I made it out in one pice.

I mostly wandered around the store looking at people and books. People, as I said, make me nervous, but they're also endlessly fascinating. There were a lot of people dressed in costumes, and I don't know what was more impressive: the number of people in schoolgirl outfits or the number of grown-ups in naughty schoolgirl outfits. My two favorites, though, were the kid who was dressed as Dobby the House-Elf (complete with pillowcase, and it looked like an actual pillowcase), and the Latina witch straight out of the barrio (impressive, considering that I'm pretty sure Madison doesn't have one) with--I swear I am not making this up--a broom that said "Low Rider" on it. Honorable mention to the guy dressed as a Quidditch player.

You could pretty much divide the crowd into two types of people: teenage girls and creepy middle-aged men. It made me glad that I'm a teenage girl. Actually, I'm oversimplifying. There was pretty much every kind of person that you could ever imagine. I think it's great that a book can bring all of these people together in one spot, even if just for an hour or two.

Enough rambling. It's one a.m. and I have some reading to do. (Heck yes. I didn't wait in the stuffy heat just to come home and go to sleep.)


  • (Josh) So I'm not into this at all, and not reading any of the books has somewhat become a point of pride. But we were in a SMALL, INDEPENDENT bookstore yesterday buying a gift for Frank Douma's daughter and they had several sealed boxes of the book with all kinds of great "Do not open until July 16th" crap all over it. It was kind of exciting.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:03 PM  

  • The people in front of me in line asked for, and received, one of those boxes with the stern warnings all over.

    I saw a piece on the television this morning about a small shop selling this book, and the lady was saying that it was easily the largest outlay they had ever made for a single book, and that she expected to run out before the weekend was through.

    Oh, fresh hell: the poor girl behind me in line was complaining to her mother about being tired, and she kept CRASHING INTO ME after falling asleep on her feet.

    By Blogger Robert, at 11:15 PM  

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