Vol. 5, Issue 4, May 15, 2007
British Tabloid Pays High Price for Wrong Harry Potter Book
A British tabloid has been left red-faced after paying $80,000 for a book that has been publicly available in bookstores worldwide for nearly seven years.
The Sun paid over £40,000 for what it thought was the Spanish translation of the last book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is due to be published on July 21. Sales of the previous installments have broken all publishing records, and Deathly Hallows is already the largest pre-ordered book in history. Consequently, interest in the closely guarded manuscript is at a fever pitch.
"Well in 2005 we did [author] J.K. Rowling, and the world, a real service when our reporters faced a great deal of danger in helping capture thieves making a similar offer with the last book," said Sun editor Jeremy Falston. "It is most unfortunate that these practical jokers have seen fit to mock our determination to perform a second such service."
Last week, reporter Trevor Hindman received an anonymous note saying that a Spanish Harry Potter book was available for sale. Hindman corresponded with the anonymous tipster, certain he was on the verge of another sting (and another great bout of publicity for the Sun).
"The maddening thing is," said Hindman, "that the author was, in fact, quite straightforward about the whole business. He merely said he had a copy of the book, guaranteed official Spanish translation, and gave a page count and so forth. He even gave us the title of the book, Harry Potter y el Caliz de Fuego. Unfortunately, no one here speaks Spanish, so we didn't realize that the book in question was not the seventh book, but the fourth."
The anonymous tipster did describe the book to be sold very clearly and honestly, as the Sun found to its chagrin after hurried conversations with its attorneys.
"From a contractual point of view it was quite clever," said Hindman. "We just sort of assumed that anyone who bothered and send anonymous notes, and demand such a high price, would be selling something illegal. But in fact there's nothing preventing you from doing the same thing with a sandwich. We were enticed by the apparently illicit context of the sale."
The perpetrator was more clever than the thwarted book thieves in 2005, who showed up in a deserted field expecting their Sun contact to bring cash. This time, payment was demanded in advance, broken up in installments, picked up in four remote locations north of London. When Hindman arrived at the specified location he found the book neatly wrapped on a tree stump, with a polite thank you note; no one was in sight.
The police are investigating, though there is little indication that any charges will be filed. Apparently, a similar offer was made to the rival paper Daily Mirror, but an alert editor recognized the title of the book and declined to accept the offer.
"It's probably just as well the book isn't the one we thought," admitted Hindman. "It took us three days just to translate the title."