A New York store mistakenly put its copies of the new Harry Potter book on display before the official release date, and thousands of other copies were snatched from a warehouse in England, potentially spoiling publishing's most treasured — and guarded — secret.
Booksellers, warehouse workers and others across the English-speaking world have been following strict security measures to ensure a smooth release of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the latest adventure in the blockbuster series.
Thieves made off with a tractor trailer containing 7,680 copies of the new book, police said Tuesday. The truck was taken Sunday from outside a warehouse in Newtown-le-Willows, northern England, where the books awaited distribution for their 12:01 a.m. release on Saturday. Authorities have made no arrests and have no suspects.
The truckload of books had an estimated retail value of $220,000 — but advance copies would have a much higher street value. The book has a list price in the United States of $29.99.
Stores across the United States plan late-night parties Friday and a countdown is scheduled in New York's Times Square. Festivities also were planned in England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of the Potter books, commissioned a first printing of 8.5 million. Those books are making their way from printing presses to distribution facilities to retailers and private homes.
Security touches every level of the Potter book. Unlike other books, which pass through several hands from early manuscript to production to release, only a few people at the publishing house have even seen the book, said Judy Corman, a spokeswoman for Scholastic. A safe was installed at the office so that samples sent from the printer could be stored securely.
Retailers signed agreements not to put the book on sale early, with Scholastic threatening to punish violators by withholding timely shipments of future Potter books. Warehouse workers are not allowed to leave with anything they didn't bring in with them.
"I was talking to the owner of a printing plant we use in Ann Arbor (Mich.)," said Michael Jacobs, a senior vice president at Scholastic, Inc. "He told me that he went to the printing line and picked up a book and that before he knew it the foreman was saying, `Hey, what are you doing with that book?' So we know people are serious about security."
The sign on the door of Orlando's biggest Barnes & Noble store reads "Beware the three-headed dog." The books are being kept under lock and key, even from reporters like CBS News Correspondent Peter King.
"I'm sorry to say that we didn't change the codes or have a special Harry Potter code for you," said manager Seth Brandler.
Brandler promised the boxes would stay sealed until very late Friday night.
But some copies have hit the streets anyway. The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that it purchased a copy from a health food store in Brooklyn.
The News said the owner of the store, which it didn't identify, didn't know he was supposed to wait until Saturday to put the books on display.
Representatives of Scholastic did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Advanced Marketing Services, a San Diego-based distributor that expects to handle about 2 million Potter books between Saturday and January 2004, has hired security guards in the United States and added guard dogs for a Canadian distributor it partially owns.
Amazon.com employees have begun packaging the Potter book at five regional warehouses with a warning label: "Do not under any circumstances deliver before June 21."
On Monday, news reporters with three separate security badges passed through metal detectors and had their bags searched at Amazon.com's warehouse in Fernley, Nev., 30 miles east of Reno.
"I can't let you touch the book," warned Bill Carr, Amazon.com's director of books, music, videos and DVDs. He gestured toward some of the more than 200,000 books — about 150 tons worth — that will be shipped to West Coast destinations.
Similar operations are under way at Amazon.com's four other major regional distribution centers in Newcastle, Del.; Coffeyville, Kan.; Campbellsville, Ky.; and Lexington, Ky.
"The books are under special security from the minute they are received," Carr said. "Given that people really want to know what the plot is, we don't want to be the spoiler and let it leak out."
In the past few months, three other highly anticipated books — Trisha Meili's "I Am the Central Park Jogger," Stephen Glass' "The Fabulist" and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Living History" — have been obtained by reporters before their publication dates.
"It's hard to control the release of a book," says Pat Yzerman, a vice president at Scribner, which published Meili's book.
"If you were to count the number of hands that a book passes through from production to the date of release, it's got to be around 5,000."