Harry Potter Party Poopers
Much as I enjoy the Harry Potter books - which, to my great surprise, I have - I will not be lining up on Saturday when, at the stroke of midnight, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits the shelf.
No, I'll buy or borrow at my leisure, and it really won't bother me at all if I find out who among the principals dies in this one. (I'm voting for Hagrid or Ron Weasley, but as long as it's not Harry himself, I'm fairly indifferent.)
But I love the fact that bookstores have held midnight parties for the last few releases, letting die-hards grab the books the minute they come out of the box and stay up all night seeing whether it's Hagrid or Ron or Hermione or Draco Malfoy who ends up dead. It's just out and out fun to think of bookstores as a place of excitement and entertainment.
And for small, independent bookstores: if they can generate more interest and income by hosting a Harry Potter coming out party, well, bravo for them.
This year, however, the suits apparently have other ideas.
As David Mehegan reported in The Boston Globe the other day, "Warner Bros. -- which controls the movies, merchandise, and all nonbook aspects of the Harry Potter brand -- is clamping down on the fun."
What they're after is cease and desist of events that fall outside the (confusing) guidelines established by Warner and by Scholastic, which is the HP book publisher in the U.S.
In the past few weeks, Warner's London legal office has sent e-mails to booksellers and party organizers around the country, warning them against unauthorized celebrating, under the threat of legal action. "[Your event] appears to fall outside our guidelines," said one e-mail. "Therefore, HARRY POTTER cannot be used as a theme for your event."
Many of these missives have been received by small, independent bookstores, which are often staging the event as part of a fundraiser.
Among the rules: no charging admission to the parties, and no third-party involvement. Which leaves out those bookstores that were rounding up others in their community to take part in the party.
One local bookstore that's been impacted by the crackdown is the Brookline Booksmith, a venerable indie that is incredibly generous to and supportive of the literary (readers and writers) in greater Boston. They were planning on a benefit for their local Teen Center, and signed up 18 neighboring businesses to take part with them. No can do.
Similarly, a group of small businesses in Portland, Maine, had planned on getting together to raise money for Sudanese and Somali refugee programs. But Warner warned them that vendors - like the comic book and candy stores that were going to take part - could profit from the event. So the Portland group is struggling to reconfigure its planned Mugglefest - and is likely to raise less money in the process.
According to a Warner Brothers statement:
...the guidelines are intended "to help organizations run themed events in a way that avoids fans being exploited and helps everyone to enjoy the Harry Potter books, films, and events in the spirit in which they were created.
I guess the only one who's entitled to exploit fans is Warner itself.
Of course, it is understandable that Warner would want to protect its brand from untoward and raunchy uses of its characters, places, and plotlines. It's not all that hard to imagine borderline - if not over the line - uses of Harry, Hermione, and Hogwarts. (Co-ed, naked, Quidditch, anyone?)
Of course, the co-ed, naked Quidditch teams aren't exactly going to be asking Warner or anyone else's permission to do whatever they want with Harry et al. They're just going to go ahead and do it.
No, it's the nice-guy independent booksellers who really need those Harry Potter books to make their year who are asking, pretty please, can we pretend for the day that our address is Diagon Alley? Is it okay if we get the pet shop across the way to sell owls or rats? Can the local hairdresser come in and give kids Harry or Malfoy cuts?
None of that fan exploitation, please!
Restricting booksellers who are trying to conduct fundraisers and/or even just trying to turn a buck seems dastardly. (Let's face it, life ain't all that easy for the indie booksellers in this day and age.)
It's the kind of thing that the Dursleys would have dreamed up. Or the residents of Slytherin. Or maybe even Voldemort.
Yet another example of the ridiculous lengths that the bigs can go through when they're applying the defensive arts to their brands.
I know that it would be suicide for small bookstores to thumb their noses at Warner and Scholastic. We all know what the bigs can do when they want to hurt the littles. But don't you just wish that, for this one Saturday night at least, they'd let the small independent bookstores throw an invisibility cloak over themselves and celebrate the long-awaited release of the new Harry Potter book?