Sunday, June 22, 2003

The magic formula

'Potter' sells more than books

Laura Pulfer

I am worried about Harry Potter. Such a plucky lad. Much too good to wind up with his likeness on a pair of underpants. And, of course, there will be Slytherin-skin handbags and Gryffindor thongs, Hogwarts acne cream and Dumbledore designer sheets, broomsticks with cup holders and Golden Snitch nose rings?

If there aren't already.

Right now, you can buy Harry Potter bobble heads, plush dolls and a six-piece, $50 Wedgwood china set. Harry's favorite candy, Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans, are available in flavors including banana, booger, lemon drop, vomit and watermelon. (And you thought biting into an Esther Price opera cream when you were expecting a caramel was the worst that could happen.)

Legalized reading

Tattoos, bumper stickers, T-shirts, a comforter set, wands, towels and Harry Potter horn-rimmed glasses with tape on the bridge can be had in retail stores and on various Web sites. Oh, and now we Muggles (non-wizards) are allowed to buy author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix without fear of being turned into toads or, worse, defendants.

A $100 million suit was filed last week by the author and publisher, Scholastic, against the rambunctious New York Daily News, which thumbed its nose at the Saturday embargo. The suit details a worldwide marketing campaign including "even Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix days at baseball parks."

The Bambino must be twirling in his grave.

Maybe not. Babe Ruth appreciated a home run, and the Potter phenomenon is certainly that. The books have been translated into 55 languages. (Note to those who have not yet forgiven the French for their stance on the war in Iraq: They have to wait until December for the translation.)

Scholastic has ordered 8.5 million copies for the overlapping first and second printing. Then there are the movies and the licensing. J.K. Rowling - "Jo" to her friends - is now reportedly worth more than her queen.

There's a lot of money at stake. Armed guards patrol warehouses. British police offered a hotline number to call if anyone was offered the book "in unusual circumstances." Still, some books magically appeared.

A 14-year-old girl bought one at a Daytona Beach Walgreens. The poor child. "OK, scumbag, drop the book and come out with your horn rims up." Meanwhile, the Today Show staged a Trivia Tournament, followed by a celebration in Times Square. A billboard overlooks Sunset Strip.

But the best part is the epicenter of the media storm. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "What makes the Potter books so popular is the radically simple fact that they're so good."

A girl I know, an honor student at Walnut Hills High School, will tuck Harry in her beach bag along with Jean Paul Sartre and Virginia Woolf. I, myself, put away my customary trashy novel today to read the Phoenix, which is not digital and has no sound effects. You do not have to join a league or pay club dues or wear dangerous shoes to participate. Marketers cannot duplicate it with plush.

A good book is magic.

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