Tight Security Keeps Harry Potter Under Wraps With millions of readers wanting to know what happens in the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, security surrounding the printing and distribution is ultra-high. How can a publisher keep a book under wraps, and still have it available at bookstores at one minute past midnight?
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Tight Security Keeps Harry Potter Under Wraps

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Tight Security Keeps Harry Potter Under Wraps

Tight Security Keeps Harry Potter Under Wraps

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

With two days to go before the release of the final "Harry Potter" book, the publisher is scrambling to plug leaks of the book on the Internet and through the mail. Scholastic said today, it will take legal against the discount Internet retailer for shipping books early. And the publisher also went to court to get what appeared to be photos of the book's pages off the Internet.

Here's NPR's Robert Smith on the struggle to keep a book this big secret.

ROBERT SMITH: He can tell you his name.

Mr. SEAN SUNDWALL (Employee, Amazon.com): Sean Sundwall.

SMITH: And that he works at amazon.com, but he can't reveal his exact location.

Mr. SUNDWALL: All I can tell you is I'm in the state of Nevada. We aren't allowed, for security reasons, to actually disclose where our fulfillment center is due to tight security around the seventh book of the "Harry Potter" series.

SMITH: But you are actually standing within 10, 20, 30 feet of the final "Harry Potter" book?

Mr. SUNDWALL: I am. It's called the "Harry Potter" zone actually, and it's fenced off. It's completely guarded. There's only one entrance, and if you don't have the right badge, you don't get in.

SMITH: And even if you do, you can't look at the book. Only long-term employees with gloves can pick it up and place it unopened into shipping boxes for a Saturday delivery. Forty books a minute, not one missing.

Mr. SUNDWALL: Oh, we keep count on it multiple times a day, many, many times. There's actually people set aside to count boxes and count pallets.

SMITH: The obsession with the security of the new "Harry Potter" book has become as legendary as Hogwarts. Scholastic, the U.S. publisher, won't even answer questions about how the book is printed or distributed. But with millions of copies of the book now out of their grasp and in the hands of bookstores and libraries, it was only a matter of time before some of the magic escaped.

Scholastic admitted today that some of the books - around a thousand - had been shipped out early by a discount Internet site. One of those books has already been offered on eBay for $250.

Meanwhile, photos of what are allegedly the inside pages are now widely available on file sharing sites on the Internet. Scholastic has been working to pull the content off those sites, while not confirming that the pictures of the book are authentic. It could, after all, be just a very well designed hoax.

Ms. KIM BROWN (Vice President, Barnes & Noble): Well, I haven't seen the book so I couldn't tell you if they're real or not.

SMITH: Kim Brown is a vice president at Barnes & Noble. Regardless of any leaks, the bookseller is sticking with its tight security plan as the books begin to leave their undisclosed locations en route to stores. And that means armed guards, no photos, and generally treating the book like it came out of Fort Knox.

Ms. BROWN: You know, it's not the cure for cancer, but, you know, for so many fans out there, it is a big deal.

SMITH: If the leaks continue, it could be a big deal for the courts, too. The publisher has made bookstores and libraries sign legal agreements promising not to release the book before midnight on Friday. And if one of them did leak that copy on the Internet or knowingly release the book, it could be liable for up to $200,000 in penalties or worse.

One British man got four and half years in prison for stealing the last book, "Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince," and tried to sell it to a reporter. Of course, all this brouhaha about security does serve another purpose - as just another way to promote the book.

At McNally Robinson, a small bookseller in Soho, employee Jessica Stockton is worried not about keeping the book secure, but about whether they've ordered enough. All this talk about the big secret and whether it's been breached adds to the fun.

Ms. KIM STOCKTON (Employee, McNally Robinson): I think it's part of the mythology of "Harry Potter," like it's this magical secret huge thing. Sort of a forbidden like the thrill of the forbidden, you're not allowed to have it until this date, but that's enjoyable, like, you know, ruining it is kind of apart from the spirit of the thing.

SMITH: And just as Harry Potter is tested in the books, now his fans will be too. "Harry Potter's" publisher, Scholastic, made a direct appeal to anyone who might, through accident or otherwise, get the book early. They're asking that you don't open the package and keep it hidden until midnight on Friday.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

SIEGEL: Now, not every "Harry Potter" fan will snap up the book at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, and that means starting this weekend, many will be plugging their ears to avoid hearing how the book ends. So beware the spoilers.

NORRIS: A spoiler could be your precocious child who stays up all night Saturday reading all 784 pages, or an excited reader on the subway with loose lips.

SIEGEL: And so begins a race. How long can you expect it'll be before you hear someone, somehow, spill the beans?

NORRIS: Well, to put your minds at risk after a heated or at least lively conversation here at NPR, the high commission has ruled. The ending of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is not news. You will not hear it here.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, you or your child could unsuspectingly hear that in "Moby Dick," the whale fares better than Captain Ahab, and in "War and Peace," bet on the Russian winter. But fear not, a book can still be in pleasure even if you know how it ends.

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