Spoiler Frenzy Follows Early Mailing of 'Hallows'

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Forget Voldemort. Yesterday Harry Potter fans fearful of spoilers went offline, underground and incommunicado as book publisher Scholastic confirmed that about 1,200 copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" erroneously had been mailed early to readers.

Scholastic cited a breach in the on-sale agreement by the distributor, Levy Home Entertainment, and DeepDiscount.com, a customer of the distributor. The publishing company is planning to take legal action, it said in a statement yesterday. The books represented one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the total U.S. copies scheduled to go on sale Saturday.

Even some mainstream news organizations got in on the action. Yesterday the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun posted reviews of "Deathly Hallows," which some readers protested contained key plot elements. More than 50 angry fans immediately protested the Sun's review on the paper's Web site: "Why ruin it for the rest of us?! OMG, So not fair!" wrote one Potterite, identified only as HP4ever.

Tim Franklin, editor of the Sun, said the paper had "obtained the book legally" -- the relative of a newsroom employee had ordered a copy from DeepDiscount, and passed it on when it arrived early. "There was a lot of debate and discussion over whether we would publish the review," Franklin said. "Ultimately we decided that it was news."

The New York Times did not immediately return calls to discuss its decision; the review stated that the book had been purchased from a New York retailer.

The Washington Post plans to honor the embargo.

Yesterday's flurry of events came a day after Tuesday's mildly traumatizing kerfuffle in which several hundred scanned pages of "Deathly Hallows" popped up on ThePirateBay.com.

One copy of the book landed on the doorstep of William Collier, an Atlanta engineer who, though only a casual Harry reader, had ordered an advance copy of "Deathly Hallows" off DeepDiscount. When the book arrived four days early, Collier took immediate and responsible action: He placed it on sale on eBay with a reserve price of $250. Collier said the book was purchased yesterday by an editor at Publisher's Weekly. Editors at Publisher's Weekly could not be reached for comment.

In lieu of further details, Collier responded by offering for $300 a written account of his story, which he'd sentimentally titled, "I Was an eBay Voldemort." The Washington Post declined.

The exact cause of the breach remains unclear: "We're knee-deep in an internal investigation, and we're taking the matter extraordinarily seriously," says Andrew Moscrip, a spokesman for DeepDiscount.com, who commented that he'd been instructed not to comment any further.

Not, likely, as seriously as the Potter fans who have become victims of stealth spoilers flooding their in-boxes. "People have been e-mailing us Xeroxed pages of the book all day," says Emerson Spartz, who founded the popular fan Web site Mugglenet.com. "Whoever happens to be opening the e-mail at that time takes a bullet for the team. We read it to make sure it's real, then pass the pages on to Scholastic so they can sic their [expletive] lawyers onto the offenders." Spartz says that though some forwarded messages have been artfully crafted fakes, the Xeroxed pages "had J.K. all over them."

The staff at FictionAlley.org was forced to close all its message boards to comments because meanies had begun posting entries with major plot points in the subject line. "It's really malicious," says Heidi Tandy, who runs FictionAlley. "It's one thing if you come across an early copy and want to read it. It's another to force vulnerable people to read it. We're all being attacked!"

Scholastic had asked that anyone who received information about "Deathly Hallows" "preserve the fun and excitement for fans everywhere" by not spreading spoilers. Says Spartz, "Any true Harry fan, especially the hardcore ones on Mugglenet, know that everything will be revealed on the 21st. It will be over soon enough -- why would we rush to that?"

Researchers Meg Smith and Lucy Shackleford contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company