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Why I Read the Harry Potter Ending First

by Ann Handley  |  
July 23, 2007

Susan Gunelius at MarketingBlurb asks: Will "the buzz marketing associated with Harry Potter, which often manifests itself in the form of real and fake spoilers, will negatively impact sales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"?

In other words, will sales nosedive because spoilers have spilled the Bernie Botts Every Flavor Beans about the fate of the boy wizard and his entourage?
Knowing the ending never stopped me from watching Gone with the Wind a zillion times, each time indulging in the fantasy that Rhett doesn't walk. Or as Juliet Lapidos points out, "–as any Ian Fleming enthusiast can attest, knowing that 007 will eventually escape doesn't mean you feel cool and collected when he's fighting against a giant squid."
Which is why I read the ending to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows first.
There are those who will say that I lack impulse control, and others (including the author herself) who might pity me for forgoing the luxury of immersing myself in the narrative–like a walk through the Forbidden Forest, never knowing where the path twists and turns would end up, exactly. To both camps, I apologize. But I had to do it: I had to read the final chapter first.
The ending is already out there. First there was the NY Times review. Now there's discussion on the internet–blogs, websites–between friends and family, snippets overhead at Starbucks. I knew it was a matter of time before I'd be skipping along when I'd suddenly slam headlong into some key bit of the story. Clues would add up, the resolution would start to take shape.
Trained as a journalist, and inherently nosy enough to pick up bits of information from various sources and knit them together, I knew my own proclivities wouldn't help me any. Eventually, I'd become my own plot-spoiler.
So here's my reasoning, or my rationalization: I now can relax and enjoy the book. I can luxuriate, albeit in a different sense, in the final volume of the Potter saga. I can have conversations with my teenage son–who will read the book faster than I will–without frantically heading him off from revealing too much. I can freely indulge in TV, radio, the internet–without having to speed-read or quarantine myself.
But fear not: My lips are sealed. I won't speak of it, and I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you: In this post, anyway, it's the Ending-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by BJ Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    "in the final volume of the Potter saga." Nice, firm ending of a sentence. Almost like you're pretty sure there can be no more sequels:) You spoiler:)

  • by Ann Handley Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog


  • by Nic Darling Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    The Gone With the Wind paragraph says it all for me. A good book is worth reading even if you know each step of the plot. Does the obsession with secrecy surrounding Harry Potter reflect a mediocrity of the text, or does it underestimate the reader? It seems to suggest that either the book isn't good or that the readers are incapable of appreciating it.

  • by Mack Collier Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    Hype and buzz drive sales. This is why Rowling's whining about the NYTimes and Baltimore Sun reviewing the book early shows that she doesn't understand that these moves will BOOST sales of her book. The early reviews create a NEW angle to the Potter hype, and all new buzz. Same thing happened when artists and labels whined that Napster was killing the industry, but when an album was leaked to Napster early, all it did was expose more people to the music, which created more buzz and WOM, which lead to more sales. Radiohead had never had an album hit the Top 20 in sales in the US prior to Kid A being leaked onto Napster 6 months prior to going on sale in the fall of 2000. Being leaked onto Napster exposed the band to a completely different audience, who loved the music. As a result the band, who had never cracked the Top 20 in album sales, debuted at #1 in the US when Kid A went on sale. Coincidence?

  • by Jennifer R. Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    Good points, but with regards to Mack's I think there's a difference with leaking an intact song from a compilation on a CD and possibly releasing details/spoilers on a book that numerous existing fans of the book prefer to remain in the dark about until they have uncovered the plot slowly on their own at the pace of their own reading. Of course, as far as Harry Potter goes, I'm one of the ones who didn't even so much as read the chapter titles when I opened the cover, just dove right into chapter one and read til I finished the book. I guess this is a case where marketers/media need to be sure they know their audience, and due to the numerous requests to remain spoiler free on the various HP fansites, such a "leaking" wasn't necessarily a good thing to this audience.

  • by Heather Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    I definitely lack impulse control when it comes to a good book. I can't stand not knowing what happens. As for the true Harry Potter fans, I don't think knowing the end before reading the beginning will stop them from purchasing the book, watching the movie or standing in line at a book release party wearing their spectacles. Like Jennifer said, however, it is a shame to ruin it for those who would rather not know what happens until they get to the end of their own fantastic journey through the book. Heather audio book downloads

  • by Christelle Tue Jul 24, 2007 via blog

    Quite relevant article ... If I'd got children, I would read the end before ... Suspens and secrets keep on being relevant strategies of buzz. I'd just like to ad that Harry Potter is a fabulous exemple of CRM becaus the heroe has grown up with each children (customer) ...

  • by David Reich Tue Jul 24, 2007 via blog

    I can understand why you read the ending first, Ann, although I've always been able to resist the temptation. I just overheard two women talking, as one was sitting in a waiting area reading Harry Potter. It looked like she was near the beginning and the other woman said "You're gonna love it." The reader said I already know the ending. I read the last four chapters so the suspense is gone and I can then relax and enjoy reading it from the start. So, looks like you're not alone. (Hope you enjoyed it, by the way.)

  • by Ann Handley Tue Jul 24, 2007 via blog

    Thanks for the comments, all. And David -- that's exactly the sort of conversation I was terrified of overhearing.... what if the other woman added a key piece of information along with "You're gonna love it." ... I couldn't take the stress of worrying that any given conversation might suddenly turn for the worst....

  • by Drew McLellan Tue Jul 24, 2007 via blog

    Ann, I read the ending first too. By 12:30 am on Saturday morning, I knew. Then, I could savor the book. Of course...I do this with every fiction book I read. What I love about this reading technique is the fun of observing the author's deft hand at peppering the book with clues that lead to the conclusion. And in this was heightened by 2 years of waiting. It was worth the wait. Drew

  • by Paul Williams Wed Jul 25, 2007 via blog

    Doing that is so Harry from "When Harry Met Sally." Harry would start with endings of books - because of his dark side. In case something happened to him before he finished the book, he wanted to know how it ended. This comment makes me so 1989.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Jul 25, 2007 via blog

    Drew -- I can't say I read the endings of a matter of course, but interesting approach! Paul -- I remember that, too, now that you mention it (old man).

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Jul 25, 2007 via blog

    The people I know who love Harry Potter, which range from a friend's children to my aunt and uncle in their 60's -- absolutely love the Harry Potter books and would not miss reading every single one for anything. It seems almost like a cult. Well, in a good way. :-) Neil

  • by Chris Blackman Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    J. K. Rowling's bank account: uh-huh. My bank account: Uh-huh. I think she knows about marketing her books!

  • by Chris Blackman Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    J. K. Rowling's bank account: Uh-huh. My bank account: Uh-huh. I think she knows about marketing her books!

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