Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Defective Hallows Part I

It all went surprisingly well. Our Potter Party planners shopped like crazy people, lettered signs in silver paint, made elf wine, and strung a line of golden snitches across the bookstore; the sales clerks heroically didn't call in sick; the kids showed up in their black robes and nerdy glasses; upper management (despite lingering back injuries) hauled umpteen boxes of books up the stairs.

Unpleasant incidents were few. A couple of customers tried to bribe us to get their books ahead of the publisher's draconian 12:00:01 a.m. on-sale time. There was some confusion over whether one gentleman had ordered the CD version of the book or the cassette version. Some slutty little witches showed up, doing marketing for a Harry Potter game that you play on your cell phone. A dispute arose over the proper color of elf wine.

But then it was time to sell books. Or in the case of people who'd prepaid, to hand out books. At midnight, the line for prepaids stretched the length of the store. Three minutes later, the line was gone, a slight breeze ruffled the crepe paper decorations, and we had a pile of empty white cartons at the information desk. The other line, for procrastinators and spur-of-the moment types ("Hey, honey, look, they're selling the Harry Potter book!"), straggled haphazardly out the front door onto the sidewalk. I'm sure we didn't sell as many books as some other stores, but it was certainly more than we're accustomed to selling after midnight on a Friday night. Our last customer was a uniformed SFPD officer who tapped on the door at a few minutes to one.

Saturday morning a new line had formed outside the door by the time we opened. Sales varied from brisk to crazed all day long. We started to worry about running out of books. The kids book buyer from corporate told us to keep our shirts on and she'd take care of us. I couldn't get the count to come out right, but I found another fifty books, so we knew we were at least going to make it through Saturday. At about eight p.m., three hours from closing, we passed our sales goal for the week (with one day left to go!) Very sweet. I threw some printouts in my bookbag and got ready to head home.

That's when the call came. One of our staff members. She'd bought three copies of the book the night before. All of them, she reported, were missing pages 675-706. Not torn or cut out, not blank, just missing, absent, not there. WTF?

Well, it happens. Publishers make mistakes. When the previous Harry Potter book came out, someone up in Canada or somewhere found some that were printed upside down. Flukey, weird, maybe a collector's item, but not so unusual really. Still... I remembered now that I'd seen a copy at the sales counter with a note in it--"Damaged."

Not, in fact, damaged. Defective. (I have not ever been able to get this distinction across to everyone in the store.) Publisher defective. Missing pages 675-706.

At this point, belatedly I'm sure you'll agree, the full implications struck me. We'd sold hundreds of these books. How many of them had this nasty, almost certainly fatal birth defect? (The story I heard later was that our staff member's brother read one of the defective copies through from cover to cover without noticing the thirty missing pages, but surely that's not right.) More importantly, how long would it take our customers to reach the Big Freaking Gap, and how long after that before they headed back to the bookstore? Gruesome possibility--if enough of them brought the book back the next day, could we actually go into the red for that day--and sink back UNDER our weekly sales goal?

Too embarrassing to contemplate.



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