SCOTT SIMON, host:
More than a million copies of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" have already been sold in advance, and that's just on Amazon. There's no telling how many copies have been reserved at bookstores across the country or how many will be sold over the counter this weekend. Scholastic publishers has 10.8 million books ready. And in the Hogwarts' version of No Child Left Behind, Scholastic and the National Braille Press are also making the braille edition of the latest "Harry Potter" available sooner than ever before. Joining us from member station WBUR in Boston is Diane Croft, who's vice president for Marketing and Publications for the Braille Press.
Thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. DIANE CROFT (Vice President for Marketing and Publications, the Braille Press): It's a pleasure.
SIMON: Scholastic must have been worried that by making copies of this new Harry Potter book to you in advance, somebody would have spilled the beans.
Ms. CROFT: As it relates to the Harry Potter books, we've been working with them since the very beginning with the first Harry Potter book. And although it's true they never sent us the files early before now, we have a long-standing relationship with them. And they did talk with us extensively about our security measures, and there's been no breech.
SIMON: May I ask without giving away anything what kind of security measures are we talking about here? I mean, sniffer dogs, armed men, what?
Ms. CROFT: Well, I guess if I told you the details of our security, it would be a breech of security. I can...
SIMON: Right, you'd have to kill me then, right?
Ms. CROFT: Yeah. Well, I can say that we do do mandated--state-mandated tests across the country, so we're very comfortable with security measures when we need to keep information confidential.
SIMON: How do you take a big book and render it into braille? How lengthy a process is it? How many people are involved?
Ms. CROFT: Well, at the Press we're just a little over 50 people, so it's a small staff. We do have volunteers come in--and in fact, they come in every year to help us collate these pages--because, as you pointed out, the braille edition for this most recent version is a thousand braille pages. And they're collated by hand because if we used a machine to collate the pages, it would crush the dots. Part of the process is automated. The first part, when we got the core files from Scholastic, we downloaded it into the computer, and the software program actually converts ASCII into braille. Proofreading is done manually, as it is in print. The zinc plates are produced and generated via a computer. Our presses are Heidelberg presses. That's somewhat manual. And then the collating process is manual. So it's a big job.
SIMON: We have here in the studio two parts of the Harry Potter book that came out just before this current one, and I guess it took you 13 different volumes, right? I mean, these are--they're not particularly heavy, but they're certainly as big as--kind of big as the Los Angeles phone book. You could carry it around in a backpack if you were a youngster, but probably only one volume at a time.
Ms. CROFT: It's true. You would put a few volumes in and--for that day, and then when you came home you'd refresh them.
SIMON: May I ask--and forgive me for not knowing this--but has there been any less interest in braille editions of books with the rise of recorded audio books?
Ms. CROFT: Only 1 percent of books are ever translated into braille, so you certainly need to supplement your reading with audio. But there's absolutely no substitution for braille. It's every bit a superior as reading method as print is, meaning that it's a direct and intimate experience reading the braille edition, as it is in print. And for young kids it's just great for improving their literacy skills.
SIMON: When you read "Harry Potter" back in 1998, what was it that appealed to you about that kid and those characters in the story?
Ms. CROFT: The imagination and the fact that you didn't need to see any images to imagine what was going on. You probably know that in the beginning, J.K. Rowling did not want illustrations in the book because she wanted everyone to have their own image of Harry Potter.
SIMON: And when will the braille edition be available?
Ms. CROFT: Well, we originally thought we'd have it out by the 19th because we didn't get the files until July 5th, but we will actually have it out this weekend.
SIMON: Is that unusually quick for a braille edition to follow a general publication?
Ms. CROFT: I think it's probably never happened before. Last time we put out the 13-volume edition, we got it out in 20 working days. This time we're getting it out in 11 working days. It would normally take two or three months to get out a book this size. So I think this is a first.
SIMON: I have the impression that a lot of adults read Harry Potter. Does that happen with the braille edition?
Ms. CROFT: Oh, yes. I got a letter from a fellow--it was really cute--he said, `Please rush me my Harry Potter book. I want to be the first kid on the block to have it.' And then he put in parentheses, `And I'm 35 years old.' So--and then I got another letter from a woman--she was 52--and she was just learning braille. She's a new braille reader. And she said, `Harry Potter was my first novel, and it was marvelous.'
SIMON: Diane Croft, vice president of marketing and publications for the Braille Press. Good luck to you. Thanks very much.
Ms. CROFT: Thank you.