MEDIA WATCH: Latest Harry Potter offering enchants an already dazzled media

Media Watch has covered the Harry Potter series as it has experienced its exponential growth and become the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. Writing in 1999 and 2001, this column has observed how the Potter series has overcome initial criticism that it promotes the occult and the subsequent one that it became too commercialized with merchandising tie-ins. By now, Time (June 23) reports that some 200 million copies of the books have been sold in 200 countries and 55 languages, which doesn't even account for the impact of the two hit movies the books have spawned.

Media Watch has covered the Harry Potter series as it has experienced its exponential growth and become the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. Writing in 1999 and 2001, this column has observed how the Potter series has overcome initial criticism that it promotes the occult and the subsequent one that it became too commercialized with merchandising tie-ins. By now, Time (June 23) reports that some 200 million copies of the books have been sold in 200 countries and 55 languages, which doesn't even account for the impact of the two hit movies the books have spawned.

The much-hyped release of the fifth installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, took the worldwide mania to a whole new level. There was an embargo on reviews of the book and an extraordinarily complex effort to synchronize the launches in countries throughout the world so that there would be no leaks about the plot or key storyline details. It seems every bookstore held a release party in which fans dressed as their favorite Potter character. Eden Ross-Lipson, The New York Times' children's book editor, told the CBS Evening News (June 21), "Harry Potter is, at this point, a phenomenon. It's not just a book or even books, it's a worldwide explosion of affection for a character." The media was fond of superlatives when reporting on the dramatic sales figures of the new book. About 1.3 million copies had been pre-ordered on Amazon.com, establishing a company record. More than 5 million copies were sold on the book's first day in US shops alone, also a new record. The media reported that Order of the Phoenix also became the fastest-selling book in British history. NPR (June 23) noted that Scholastic, the US publisher of the Potter series, "printed 8.5 million [first edition copies], and everybody thought it was a publicity stunt. They're going to have to start printing more now." Coverage is increasingly calling attention to how adults have become die-hard fans of the series, which was originally marketed to children. These reports are appearing much more often than in the previous years that Media Watch reviewed coverage of the Potter series. However, the original claim to fame for the series, that it helps inspire kids to read, remained as a frequent selling point. Given all of the frenzy surrounding the launch, there was considerable attention given to Scholastic's marketing blitz for the new title, which was said to have a budget of $3 million to $4 million for a countdown in Times Square, billboards, bumper stickers, buttons, window displays, posters, and so on. Scholastic might have found that all of the hype could backfire on it. The advance press had created some incredibly big expectations. However, initial reports reflected widespread enthusiasm from those who'd begun reading the latest installment that it does indeed live up to its billing. The New York Times (June 24) wrote, "In today's cynical world, where things seldom justify their hype, we're happy to report the following: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix rocks!" Only about half as often did the media express displeasure that the marketing hype had gone too far. The media is now in full swing behind the Potter craze. The latest installment further solidifies the series' reputation as a pop-culture phenomenon that shows absolutely no signs of ending anytime soon.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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