Saturday, July 21, 2007
I've just returned from our midnight launch of the final Harry Potter novel. I should go to sleep as I'm due to be back in the shop in five hours time, but my brain is buzzing after what was possibly the most stressful two hours of my bookselling career.
Our launch for the last book was great fun. Most of the customers turned up in fancy dress and there was a really good atmosphere which reached its climax when, at midnight, we plunged the shop into darkness and our brightly-lit glass lift descended, packed to the brim with Potter books. As the customers left, many thanked us for a wonderful evening.
This time we decided to repeat our successful formula. We'd added a security guard and another member of staff as we were expecting the evening to be a little busier, but we weren't unnecessarily worried. The customer reservations were all sorted and I'd double-checked all of the silly little things that can bring a shop to a standstill: bags, money, till rolls, bar codes etc. What could go wrong?
Just before 11.00 we opened the doors and people started to pour into the shop. The shop filled up quickly and I was expecting the queue to die down, but like Rorke's Drift, they kept on coming. Soon, the whole shop was a crush of bodies and the air became stiflingly hot. We started our activities but people could barely hear us, even when I used the tannoy. My role was to check that everyone was okay and deal with any problems, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to squeeze through the crowds.
At midnight we repeated the countdown and switched off the lights, but hardly anyone noticed the lift coming down and I was really worried that there would be a mad scramble for the books, with people pushing each other out of the way. Luckily, we'd circumvented that by giving tickets to people with reservations which they could swap for a pre-bagged copy of their book. If we hadn't done that, we would have had several hundred people queuing at our till point.
I suppose the important thing is that nothing did go wrong. We had planned the evening carefully down to the last detail and although nothing could have prepared us for the huge turnout - way beyond anything I've seen before - we got through it. I just wish that it had been more enjoyable. Hardly anyone dressed up and people seemed to be grumpier. I think many of the customers just wanted to get the book and get out, but because there were so many of them they had to queue.
What could we have done differently? It would have been nice to have made the midnight launch a ticketed event, limited to 150. But we couldn't have turned away customers, particularly when there are other shops selling the book.
WH Smiths were pathetic. They tried to poach people from our queue with an offer to buy the book for £2 less than us, but didn't mention that customers would only qualify if they spent £15 on stationery. As for the other shops, I never saw them because I was running around like a madman, trying to keep HMS Waterstone's afloat.
I wonder what today will be like?