Tight security measures to guard Harry's magic

With just days left before the July 15 midnight release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," some specifics have been unearthed for eager readers.

The book is 672 pages and weighs about three pounds. Its jacket is an eerie lime green, the title emblazoned across the top in purple. At 10.8 million copies, the initial printing is the largest in the history of American publishing - 2 million even more than the last Harry Potter tome.

But most details of the sixth in this seven-book series remain shrouded in secrecy. That's because Scholastic Inc., the book's US publisher, has once again gone to great lengths to make sure that nothing is leaked in advance. Store managers must sign affidavits that they will not release the book prematurely. Distribution centers keep the tomes in restricted areas, often watched by security guards. Scholastic won't reveal what goes into printing, distributing, and protecting the more than 16,000 tons of books. A company representative even declined to say how many reams of paper such an undertaking requires.

So far, no purloined copies appear to be circulating on US soil (although two copies were recovered in a small town north of London last month). And despite a crop of naming contests, the identity of the half-blood prince has not been leaked.

Few in the book world, though, seem to begrudge the author and her publishers their heroic efforts to maintain the mystery until the last possible moment. It's J.K. Rowling's wish that all children be able to unfurl the pages of "The Half-Blood Prince" at the same time, without having it ruined by reviews or spoilers.

Guarding that "aha" moment - "when you read something and it literally takes your breath away" - is honorable, says Russ Lawrence, of Chapter One Books in Hamilton, Mont.

"Harry Potter is a blend of mystery, magic, and adventure," explains Ilene Abramson, director of children's services for the Los Angeles Public Library. "The secrecy code lends itself to the enchantment of the book."

While adults can live with the disappointment of a surprise revealed too soon, for children it's much harder, says Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing manager for Powell's Books in Portland, Ore.

Skeptics might say the cloak of secrecy is simply good for business: the greater the hype, the bigger the sales.

Still, most booksellers and librarians seem unfazed by the security measures required by Scholastic. They've grown accustomed to the Harry Potter phenomenon - an estimated 270 million copies have been printed worldwide - and understand why there would be affidavits to ensure the book is not released early.

Still, one librarian in Leesville, La., doesn't see why this book should be handled so differently from any other. "A book is a book is a book," says Howard Coy Jr. from the Vernon Parish Library. He's ordered 15 copies and says he wasn't asked to sign anything. He wouldn't have anyway. "If they don't trust me, tough."

Managing large orders that'll arrive just before the book goes on sale has been a challenge for some bookstores.

"I'm thinking less about security than storage," says Mr. Lawrence of Chapter One Books, who has ordered 300 copies. "We may just stack them out in the middle of the floor here and drape them," he says, daring "people to walk up, lay their hands on the stack, and see if they can perceive, by osmosis, who the half-blood prince is."

The owner of Village Books in the Roslindale area of Boston doesn't plan to wait till midnight. "When they come in on the 15th, I'm opening the box," says Annie Bauman, who's ordered 200 copies. "That's the greatest joy in bookselling - getting your hands on the title."

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