Hallows be thy name as title of final Potter adventure is revealed
YESTERDAY afternoon, without a press release or publisher's announcement in sight, the campaign to launch the world's best-selling book got under way.
Until then, Bloomsbury, JK Rowling's publishers, would not reveal a thing about the seventh and final book in her Harry Potter series.
Yesterday, they relented - to reveal one tantalising fact. The name of what is almost certain to be the biggest-selling novel ever is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Typically, Rowling let the news come out in a way that almost bypasses the media. For the past couple of days, her website has carried a game of Hangman. When completed, this spells out her new book's title.
Ever since the launch of the second book in the series, Bloomsbury has played a similar cat-and-mouse game with the media. Where other publishers' publicists are paid to shower the media with as many facts about their authors' latest books, Rowling's are paid to do the opposite: to keep silent about anything to do with her, shield her from journalists and never reveal even the most basic facts about what she is writing.
Instead, those facts are slowly drip-fed to the media. Yesterday's story about the title was the first. The next will be to confirm what they are still officially denying - that the new book will be published next year.
After that, we can expect the unveiling of the artwork for the cover, which will be scrutinised for signs of what kind of adventures might be in store. Finally, just before publication, the media will be whipped up into a frenzy by rumours about who's going to win the final showdown with Lord Voldemort.
The phenomenon is called anti-marketing: it is rare, but its results can be spectacular. So spectacular, indeed, that some cynics have even started to think a hitherto heretical thought: is this the real reason behind Rowling's phenomenal success?
That, at least, is part of the thesis propounded two years ago by marketing guru Stephen Brown in his book Wizard! Harry Potter's Brand Magic. Admittedly, he doesn't claim it's anti-marketing alone that has created, in the Harry Potter phenomenon, Britain's biggest cultural export since James Bond and the Beatles. As he points out, it was the books' intrinsic merits that made them word-of-mouth successes in the first place.
But anti-marketing plays a huge role in keeping Rowling's sales ahead of everyone else. For one thing, it gets the media to do her publicists' work for her in writing stories about events that normally they would not cover, such as the naming of a book.
All the most successful brands, Brown points out, have stories. With her new book, there are plenty: how it is being printed in impenetrable secrecy; the huge numbers involved; the attempts to get hold of illicit copies, and so on, right to the orchestrated launch.
When will that be? Rowling has told friends she hopes to finish it by Christmas. Assuming she has, there might be a clue to the publication date in the title. Deathly Hallows? Hallow is a noun which, until the 15th century, used to mean "saint". All Hallow Even, back then, was what we would now call All Saints Day.
If I was a betting man, wondering when Rowling will launch her biggest book, I would put my money on Halloween 2007.
NINE-STEP MAGICAL MYSTERY
THE title of JK Rowling's final Harry Potter book is unveiled through playing an elaborate game on her website, jkrowling.com. To find it for yourself:
1. Click the rubber on her desk. 2. Click the knob on the open door in the mirror to see the Christmas tree. 3. Click on the top half of the main door to see a wreath. 4. Click on the top of the mirror to reveal a garland. 5. Click the spider's web next to the mirror. 6. Click on the fourth chime in the window, which is really the key for the door. 7. Drag the key to the door knob to unlock the door. 8. The door opens to reveal a package. When you click the bow, the package will open. 9. Inside is a game of Hangman you can play to find the title of book seven.
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