What is the cost of being right?

Picture_8 The world is counting the hours until 12:01 am.  Why?  The final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows goes on sale and all the questions will be answered.

So until then…everyone is holding their breath.  Well, almost.

As you probably know, both the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun "legally" obtained copies of the book and issued reviews on Thursday — 48 hours before the book was to be officially released.  Both reviews gave away elements of the book's plot but neither told us whether or not Harry survives.  The book's author JK Rowlings is outraged that the newspapers saw fit to publish a review before the book's release.

This reminds me a bit of the Grinch sneaking the sucker out of Cindy Lou Who's chubby little fingers as she slept.  As I search the web today, I'm hard pressed to find someone defending the two paper's decision to publish their reviews.  The Washington Post was quick to point out that they are choosing to honor the book's embargo until Saturday at 12:01.

The New York Times and Baltimore Sun's stance is "hey, if we can get the book via legal means, we have the right to publish the review."

People have been flooding the Times and Sun with angry phone calls and e-mails.  So here's my question.

Why?  Imagine the editorial meeting at either paper.  Why would they think the pre-embargo review would be well received? Why not just prep the review and have it ready for the Saturday morning edition or even better…release a 12:01 am edition?

In my mind…this is as much a PR issue as a news issue.  If you had been around the decision-making table — what would you have recommended?

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13 comments on “What is the cost of being right?

  1. Bart says:

    People should´nt be surprised this happens. If you search the internet, you could probably find the complete edition already online somewhere. I think it’s mostly a matter of generating some more PR for both the book and the two newspapers.

    Because when you think of it: does the timing really matter if you review a book with spoilers? What’s the point in waiting until the minute the book comes out? If lot’s and lot’s of sources are starting to put out reviews then, where’s the news value in that?

    Besides: there’s gonna be spoilers anyway, so why not be the first and generate some buzz while you’re at it? It puts the spotlight on your newspaper and the books as well: it won’t stop people from buying or enjoying the book just as much…

  2. Steve Harper says:

    Drew,

    You hit the nail on the head….this is as much a PR issue as it is a news issue. However, how many more papers did they sell because of the controversy? Despite the negative phone calls and emails I would be curious to see if they experienced any significant spike in sales. And isn’t that what we are talking about really? Those decisions makers sitting around the table know that controversy usually equates to cash registers ringing and that’s the name of their game. Regardless of how bad it makes them look.

    The bell can not be unrung. Heck…even the Grinch came in and found redemption at the end. An ending that these newspapers won’t be able to write for themselves no matter what.

    Ripple On!!!

    Steve

  3. Mack Collier says:

    In my mind this is a non-issue. The NYT and Baltimore Sun publishing a review will only boost sales even more, if that’s possible. It just creates another news story, and creates the impression that the new Harry Potter book is so ‘special’ that it’s a ‘guarded secret’. That drives up its perceived value among customers.

    It’s Napster all over again. Labels whined about new releases being leaked on the network before they went on sale, but all that did was expose more people to the music, and INCREASED sales as a result. Radiohead had never had a hit album in the US, but in 2000, Kid A was leaked onto Napster about 6 months before it went on sale. When it did in October, it debuted at #1. Reason? Everyone had traded the CD via Napster and loved it, which lead to massive WOM for the CD, and sales went through the roof.

    Rowling might be pissed, but it just because she doesn’t have complete control over the distribution of her book and she doesn’t want the ‘secret’ let out of the bag prior to it going on sale. But this is going to do nothing but create more hype, and more sales, for her book.

  4. Bart & Mack,

    I think that I disagree. A story/book is different than leaking something like a song or some other factoid.

    These books are built on plot lines that have been intricately woven through 7 books. Many of the clues if you will, from the earlier books will be revealed in the final book.

    Unlike a song…where you listen to it, like it and listen to it again, a the details of a story can’t be as enjoyable the 2nd time around. There’s the element of surprise that is lost forever when a reviewer shares a spoiler or two.

    The book needs no more hype. It’s already the biggest pre-sale order book of all time. This isn’t going to sound very business-like but printing the reviews/spoilers early is disrespectful.

    The papers gain nothing but make some click stats. Most of us who aren’t regular readers but wanted to see what they had done, looked at the free online version.

    But what they did do — was potentially ruin a little bit of the experience for the millions of people anxiously waiting to read that final book.

    I’m not suggesting it is a huge deal, but I’m hard pressed to see the upside for them.

    Drew

  5. Steve,

    The bell cannot be unrung. Exactly what I was trying to say. You just did it better.

    Drew

  6. I agree – a non-news event. It probably sold more papers but had no effect on book sales. Just as with the iPhone, the more it is in the paper the more papers it sold, or at least so they hoped. I too would like to know if they feel there was a spike in sales.

    I read the first book. I didn’t like it. I have not see any of the movies. I could not care less if they revealed the ending to me. I do think they were insensitive to those who were waiting to know how it all turns out. Those people were going to buy the book anyway. I will never so it has not bearing on me. SO who is affected? People who were on the fence? After 6 books is anyone still on the fence?

  7. I agree – a non-news event. It probably sold more papers but had no effect on book sales. Just as with the iPhone, the more it is in the paper the more papers it sold, or at least so they hoped. I too would like to know if they feel there was a spike in sales.

    I read the first book. I didn’t like it. I have not see any of the movies. I could not care less if they revealed the ending to me. I do think they were insensitive to those who were waiting to know how it all turns out. Those people were going to buy the book anyway. I will never so it has not bearing on me. SO who is affected? People who were on the fence? After 6 books is anyone still on the fence?

  8. Roger et al,

    Interesting. I think you all were taking my comments as I thought what they did was wrong because it would impact book sales.

    I could care less. JK Rowlings is already richer than the Queen. I agree with you…the early reviews will have no impact on book sales.

    I am talking about the readers. People have savored and waited for the day they had that book in their hand and could revel in the discovery of the book’s final details. That is who I think was wronged. The papers and the websites that had spoilers stole that moment from the readers.

    There would have been no harm in waiting and protecting the readers. It’s a little like all the antics parents go through to preserve Santa’s truth for as long as they can.

    Drew

  9. Bart says:

    I am talking about the readers. People have savored and waited for the day they had that book in their hand and could revel in the discovery of the book’s final details. That is who I think was wronged. The papers and the websites that had spoilers stole that moment from the readers.

    Drew, what’s the difference for those readers between publishing spoilers 48 hours before the release of the book or 1 minute after? In my view, there’s no difference, other than the fact that 2 newspapers got a level of attention, they wouldn’t have received if they had published the same item 2 days later.

    People who want to to save the precious moment of discovering the plot on their own, probably won’t look at any reviews before they have read the book themselves.

    As for all other people who do read the spoilers, well, they probably get their kicks out of reading the story regardless of whether they know the ending..

  10. Bart says:

    Ow, it appears the blockquote-tag doesn’t work. First paragraph should be read as a quote 😉

  11. Nancy says:

    I agree. If they are really concerned with the popularity of the book, they shouldn’t anger the readers. The support given by the readers is strong and they probably wouldn’t want it to be wasted because of their unwise decision.

  12. Bart,
    I completely understand the logic of what you are saying. But, for the HP readers, a big part of the allure and fun is the anticipation and build up. There’s a buzz around the fact that the books are such a tightly guarded secret.

    So by posting the reviews early feels a little like walking up to a kid and telling them that there is no Santa, just because you can.

    Why not let the mystery live on?

    A purely emotional reaction. But…I’d rather be illogical but appeal to my audience on an emotional level.

    Drew

  13. Nancy,

    I think that’s part of it. The NY Times could care less how many books are sold. They want eyes on their paper. But, I think they ran the risk of this one backfiring on them because of the strong sentiment among the readers.

    Drew

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