Harry Potter and the Instant Gratification

In honor of tonight's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows midnight release parties at Barnes & Noble stores across the U.S., I'm reissuing some advice I made on my blog in 2003.

There will be hundreds of people lined up to get the book at 12:00 a.m., so it may take until 1:30 a.m. or longer to get yours, even if you preordered a copy.

If you didn't preorder, leave the bookstore shortly before midnight and go to the nearest 24-hour Wal-Mart. (By law, no American is ever more than 30 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart.) You're likely to find what we discovered four years ago -- a large pallet of books and no line of people to get them. You can get the book in minutes.

I suspect this principle also applied to the launch of videogames like EA Sports NCAA Football 2008, which EB Games sold at midnight Tuesday. My sons and I stuck around until 12:45 a.m. to get ours, leading the North Texas Mean Green to several heartbreaking losses until 3 in the morning. You'd be surprised at how many people exhibit this kind of insanity -- lines are already forming for the release of Halo 3 at 12:00:01 a.m. on September 25.

After you buy your Potter book, please resist the urge to drive back to Barnes & Noble and taunt the people in line.


I worked late last night, and got off just in time to go to the store and wait an hour or so to get a copy. But I didn't.

Instead, I went to bed, got up at 9 or so, showered, checked my email, went to Barnes and Noble, bought a copy at 10:10 without having to wait in line, and had lunch before going back to work. Read 1/3 of it while on various breaks today.

(Last month I got in line for my iPhone at 5:30 PM on the day of release, and was out of the mall before 7 PM.)

Timing is everything.

Left my local pub @12:30 AM, visited Meijer (a regional Walmart-like chain in the upper midwest), walked to the big pallet of Deathly Hallows and walked out with it 2 minutes later.

In St. Augustine, it took until 3 a.m. for the last of the Potter buyers to get a copy at Barnes & Noble.

My son and I went to Wal-Mart, where they handed out more than 500 copies starting at 12:01 a.m. to people in line -- few of whom had pre-ordered the book. We were home by 12:15 a.m.

It's amazing to me that Barnes & Noble is so bad at doing this, even after seven books.

I think it's a matter of perspective. Do you think B&N wants to spend all the extra money to open at midnight, just so people can race through, buy one book and leave? Instead, they create an 'event' complete with crazy people camping out, media hype, and buyers who end up lingering in the store for quite a long time. Perhaps the kids are in line and the parents are browsing the store looking for other things to buy. Perhaps Starbucks was doing bang-up business the whole time (I don't know since I wouldn't go near one of these 'events' with a 10 ft. pole - I bought my copy at Walmart on Sunday).

Walmart wasn't looking to pull lots of extra traffic into their stores with Harry Potter. They just wanted bragging rights for once again offering the lowest possible price. B&N was all about publicity and traffic.

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