Over the past 24 hours, bookshops around the country have been taking delivery of the 514-page novel as part of a carefully orchestrated campaign which has seen managers asked to sign embargo notices promising not to disclose details of the book before it goes on sale at 8am tomorrow.
While Ms Rowling’s debut for an adult audience is widely regarded as the publishing event of the year, some in the industry believe the security surrounding the release is “ridiculous,” with few expecting the lengthy queues which greeted each new installment in the story of her boy wizard.
Vanessa Robertson, manager and co-owner of The Edinburgh Bookshop, was one of the many booksellers asked to sign a legally binding document by the 47-year-old publishers Little, Brown.
She told The Scotsman: “We had to sign a three-page embargo notice. Apparently I’m supposed to keep it in a locked safe until Thursday morning, and I think there may be a clause in it that I’m now allowed to say the embargo existed. It’s just ridiculous, it really is ridiculous.”
Along with major chains such as Waterstones and Foyles, the indepedent bookshop in Bruntsfield is one of many stores opening for a “breakfast launch” at 8am, with the food and drink paid for by Little, Brown to encourage a high turnout.
She explained: “The publishers said if you want to open a bit early and have breakfast ready for customers we will be for it. We’re organising it, they’re paying for it - there’ll be lovely hot scones from Loopy Lorna’s and coffee.
Asked about the policy, Clare Harington, a publicist for Little, Brown, said: “We are helping with the promotion with independent booksellers, so the idea is that the book goes on sale at 8am and if independent booksellers want to open at that time and offer their customers a cup of coffee and a croissant when they come in and buy the book, we’re supporting that.”
The generous gesture notwithstanding, Ms Robertson had yet to receive her copies of The Casual Vacancy this afternoon, but had been promised they would get to her one way or another.
“I was supposed to have my copies arrive yesterday and I got a phone call this morning saying they should be here Thursday,” she said. “I kicked off quite a bit about that, and apparently they’ll be delivered either to [the shop] or home after 5pm. I’m really cross. It’s the biggest book of the year, and I don’t see how you can even vaguely think it’s okay to not have them at bookshops.”
She and others will receive the books in sealed boxes, which can only be opened a few minutes before they are due to go on sale, measures designed to prevent leaks which have not been altogether successful - leaked extracts were circulating online yesterday afternoon, while several media outlets broke an embargo to publish reviews early.
With expectations high for commercial, if not critical success, the competition among bookellers to reap the benefits of the phenomenon is growing. Already, a frenzied price cutting war is being waged - The Casual Vacancy’s cover price is £20, but online it can be found for as little as £9.86 on Amazon and Tesco Direct, while Waterstones are offering it at a half-price £10. There have been around a million pre-orders, and a spokesman for Waterstones said there was “huge anticipation” for the tome.
For her part, Ms Robertson hopes the book is a success, but is not expecting to turn up to work tomorrow to be confronted with avid fans of Ms Rowling dressed as Hagrid or Ron Weasley, as seen in the heyday of Pottermania.
She said: “With Harry Potter, kids get really caught up in it, and maybe if you grew up with Harry Potter and are a die-hard fan, then you’ll get excited about it ... but I don’t think you can generate the same sort of hype among grown-ups. By nature they’re more cynical and have a wider range of books to choose from.