The upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows is another example of effective social design at work. Book launches are nothing new--publishers use it as a vehicle to promote the book. What's different about Harry Potter however is the fact that it's a worldwide phenomenon, with big, simultaneous book launches occurring. If this were a simultaneous movie release, we wouldn't make such a big fuss about it (or maybe we will, just not as big) but this is a book we're talking about.
Of course I don't think this would have been possible say, fifteen years ago. Best-selling children's books are nothing new. Actually, best-selling books are nothing new. C.S. Lewis did it. Terry Pratchett did it. Stephen King did it. Yet what's starkly different in the past few years is a combination of globalization (wherein news travels almost instantaneously), the Internet (which not only connects fandom to teach other but builds up on the hype), and perhaps what one might call a fluke or luck (J.K. Rowling isn't the only best-selling author out there yet why is it only her books that have caused this much commotion?). The fact that it's the last book in the series (of which she promises to never write another novel featuring Harry Potter) is merely icing on the cake.
Here in the Philippines, nearly every bookstore is having a book launch of their own. It's not just a marketing ploy to sell books but I think a good public relations move. It shows that the bookstores are interested in the communities (and building them) and not just impersonal merchants. Fans, on the other hand, get to meet other fans, thus reinforcing the following the series has.
It's interesting to see how it'll turn out however. I mean this is supposedly the last book in the series, which means no more Harry Potter book launches in the future (barring perhaps a collector's edition or some such omnibus). And it's not a phenomenon that can easily be replicated, at least here in the Philippines. The closest thing would probably be the second coming of Neil Gaiman and he's going to promote a new book but the problem with that is people are more attracted to the person himself rather than just the book. No Neil Gaiman, no cult following. And it's not like fans of other books have tried. I remember a few years ago, Wheel of Time fans gathered for the release of Robert Jordan's 11th book. I didn't attend the event (although I was tempted) but honestly, it's neither as big nor as publicized as Harry Potter. I love Wheel of Time (or rather used to love) but at this point in time, it's simply not going to be that big, at least in this country (but thankfully it's faring better than other titles as the latest releases do make it to our bookstores on time).
Anyway, this Saturday might be the biggest book launch of the decade. And then once Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows is released, there's just going to be this void and people will be touting and using phrases like "the next Harry Potter!" to describe all children's books published from this point onward (actually, it's already happening, isn't it?). So at the end of the day, it's not just fans who'll be mourning the end but the bookstores and the media as well. For quite some time, Harry Potter has been the herald of all that is good in reading and literacy. The question on everyone else's mind is what's next?