July conjures two Potters
For the first time on such a grand scale, a new book and a new film from the same blockbuster franchise are coming out almost simultaneously.
Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth film in the series, bowed Wednesday. On July 21, Scholastic and Bloomsbury will uncrate “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh (and last) chapter in a publishing success story of biblical proportions.
Yet despite the obviously immense opportunities, there’s been no cross-marketing or cross-promoting, and no attempt by either the studio or publisher to expand one base by marketing to another.
Apart from the most bare-bones conversations between Warners and the book’s publishers, there’s been no coordination of media strategies.
In fact, the only real discussions between Warners and Scholastic and Bloomsbury, the book’s U.S. and U.K. publishers, respectively, centered on ensuring that the parties didn’t step on each other toes with their nearly synchronous release dates.
Warners chose mid-July as the release for “Order of the Phoenix” in March 2006, nearly a year before the studio knew when the seventh book would be published. Scholastic and Bloomsbury set their date nearly a year later and discussed it with the studio.
(While Scholastic says the decision on the date was informed strictly by the desire to get the book out as soon as possible, the move to wait 10 days after the movie’s opening couldn’t have been entirely coincidental; after all, in film terms, 10 days during the summer can be an eternity.)
Needless to say, there’s considerable overlap between the audience of millions who have flocked to each film and devoured each tome.
And this year the studio and publishers have the luxury of the calendar — and a willing media– to play off.
Synergy is famously difficult to pull off, even within a conglom, but even so, why wasn’t there more cooperation?
Part of the problem is a function of company culture. Not only is the U.S. book publisher not part of Warners, it’s not part of any media conglom, so it’s not accustomed to making synergy a priority.
“Scholastic is kind of out there on an island,” said one book-industry vet. “It’s hard to see them thinking about a tie-in the way another house would,” such as Hyperion, the Disney unit that has been more adventurous in this department.
Indeed, the children’s publisher has kept a decidedly literary focus; asked about the possibility of working more closely with Warners, Scholastic spokesman Kyle Good said, “We really wanted to keep the focus on reading and books.”
Warners, like Scholastic, is also at the mercy of author J.K. Rowling and her agent, Christopher Little. “J.K. Rowling is our partner on the films, but she makes her own decisions about the books,” said Warners marketing topper Dawn Taubin.
According to execs, the constituencies and priorities of the companies involved were just too disparate to be bridged, even by a common profit-making goal.
The marketing approaches and needs of each are also vastly different: while Warners has concentrated on making as much noise as possible by showcasing its effects-driven movie on television and elsewhere, Scholastic has kept its marketing focus on the latest twists in the story. Much of the conversation has been dominated by whether Harry will live or die.
Perhaps reflecting these disparate goals, the marketing budget for each book was in the six-figure range, compared with $40 million or so for each film, according to a study of the franchise just released by Nielsen.
As for the fallout if Harry does, as is rumored, have his wand snuffed for good in the final book, Taubin insists that the sixth and seventh pics would only be helped.
“The literary property coming to an end will only help attract fans,” she said. “That’s what happened when Dumbledore died (in surprising fashion) in book six and then was a significant figure in the fourth film, which was a big success.”
Plenty is at stake with the rollout of both movie and film. The first four pics have grossed $3.5 billion worldwide and claim three of the all-time top 10 in terms of global B.O. The domestic bow of the fourth pic in November 2005 topped $103 million, by far the best of the series, and put the franchise firmly back on track.
In many ways, the release strategy for the last several volumes in the Potter book franchise has resembled that for a movie opening.
Sales have become increasingly tailored toward the opening weekend. The release of the fifth book in 2003 topped 5 million, the sixth volume in 2005 reached nearly 7 million, and the house is this time quietly hoping for 8 million or more — a number that, even with discounting, would easily guarantee $150 million in receipts, to be distributed among publisher and retailers.
It’s unlikely that the book’s release 10 days after that of the movie will hurt either property, though the reverse may not have been true. Had the book come out first, Warners could have been dinged by audiences who felt they already had closure on the series.
With so much riding on the releases of film and book, Warners and the publishers are hoping — independently — that the timing of the two events couldn’t be better.
(Sam Thielman in New York contributed to this report.)