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JKR wrote to me today - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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December 8th, 2002

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03:16 am - JKR wrote to me today
I got a letter from the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland asking for money this morning. It had a not-at-all-personal cover note from expecto patronum J. K. Rowling. I am on their books after giving them a chunk of money at an online auction thirteen months ago in return for a ticket to the Scottish Charity Gala Performance of the first Harry Potter movie. My, how time flies.

This isn't the only Rowling-related charity work on the radar at the moment, though. You've probably seen this before. However, the wonks say you need to see something seven times before you pay attention to it, so here it is again.
Charity. Fans. Book Five. Get a Clue. Find out about Harry Potter's Next Book and support charity!

Quickly, J. K. Rowling has handwritten and autographed a 6' x 8' card with 93 words about the plot of the forthcoming fifth Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". It is being auctioned off at Sotheby's on Thursday to benefit Book Aid International. It would be nice if nice people ended up owning said card; probably the most prominent HP news site, The Leaky Cauldron, is organising a collection throughout the fandom to bid for said card, not least so that we can all find out what it says in a timely fashion. All the money raised this way will go to Book Aid International; it would be a bonus if the money raised included sufficient for a winning bid. Please PayPal in some money to that end pronto - US$1.45 would be good (there's no numerological significance to the figure; it's US$1 plus PayPal business account charges) and more would be better. Chop chop.

Incidentally, you might recall some time ago my dilemma as to what to do with the $5 that online poker room UltimateBet sent to me out of the goodness of their hearts in an attempt to get me to play poker for money there and pay them lots of rake. Problem solved! I'm sure they'd be pleased to know that it has gone to a very good cause. (Er, maybe.)

My feelings about the initiative are actually a little more mixed than I somehow feel they should be. (I feel confident in expressing such opinions for I have already put my money where my mouth is.) The more money that gets donated, the more successful the initiative ist likely to be, so I would encourage you all to donate. However, in terms of the raw "will we win the card?" competition, I'm actually a little pessimistic about our chances.

Sotheby's estimate that the card will fetch about US$100 per word, so something like US$9,300 or GBP 6,000. However, I have a feeling that this is an estimate plucked out of thin air and so likely to be out by possibly half an order of magnitude in either direction. If I had to pluck an estimate out of thin air myself, I would compare it to the auction of authenticated merchandise used in the first movie. Two wands were sold off, each of which went for GBP 18,000. I'd be tempted to believe that that's more like the figure to aim for. Admittedly there's a well-known market in movie merchandise where the same sort of thing does not exist for book merchandise, which would tend to drive the card's price down; frankly the movie is bigger business than the book - global movie receipts of nearly a gigaUSbuck per movie, global book sale cover price of perhaps half that per book. However, we all know what happens in the movie. Approximately one person knows what happens in book five. It's book five, man - it's as eagerly awaited a storyline development as Star Wars Episode III or as the two Matrix movies. Millions of people are hanging on this, tens of millions will be very keen to know and hundreds of millions will know eventually.

Another way to think about it is in terms of who is likely to bid for the book other than the Leaky, Inc. bid. At first I thought that News International might put a bid in - after all, The Sunday Times and The Sun have always been very keen to promote their Potter credentials and it would make an incredible competition prize - but on further thought, they wouldn't mind seeing a fandom bid winning as they can still use the information for any or all of their papers. Likewise we can almost certainly count the BBC out.

This leaves two possible candidates: extremely rich fans and investors. There would probably be a reasonable amount of overlap between the two required; it would take a very rich, very dedicated, very community-unspirited fan indeed to buy out of spite and not share. If there is someone who comes into such a category, I fear that may just be the fandom's tough luck and there is nothing that can be done about it. We shall see whether it turns out to be a good investment or not. I say "not". I hope "not". I fear "so". (All the same, I think there's over a 90% chance that we'll get to find out the 93 words one way or another.)

The next question is how much the fandom is likely to raise. The TLC policy is not to disclose the amount, for this is very valuable information in the wrong hands - fair enough, a wise move. So far they have had, let me check, possibly 1500-1800 donations to date, but they're probably coming in at a rate of 10-20 per hour. (Should I hit the National Lottery on Wednesday, they shall get another one from me.) Guessing the size of the donations may be harder. The request is for one dollar, which is very modest, plus there have been some larger donations from corporations and well-to-do fans. I'd guess a mean donation of three dollars, after PayPal expense deductions, is probably about right; I'd be surprised if it were below two or above five. Extrapolating throughout the week, it's probably reasonable to expect 3,000 donations all told and to hope for 4,000-5,000. I would also suspect that the most rabid fans are likely to have donated already and the largest donations will have already arrived; on the other hand, perhaps it'll turn out that there are considerable numbers of untold envelopes and checks in the mail which have not yet been counted. (Compared to the convenience of paying over the Internet, I doubt they'll get more than 100 or 200 tops.)

Adding it all up and multiplying, I would be disappointed if Leaky, Inc. weren't in a position to bid at least US$10,000 on Thursday and I would be very pleasantly surprised if Leaky, Inc. turns out to be able to bid more than US$15,000-US$20,000. Will this be enough? Well, that's the $64,000 question. (Or the $15,000-$20,000 question, more to the point.) Frankly, I doubt it. My estimate is that Leaky, Inc. has a 30% chance of victory.

However, this shouldn't put you off. The more people contribute, the better; I would be very pleased indeed to be proven wrong and would happily eat these words. It is not at all unrealistic to suppose that a donation of US$10,000 plus - even an unsuccessful donation of US$10,000 plus - will attract the attention of those in high places. I wouldn't be at all surprised if JKR were to have some sort of personal/fandom-wide consolation prize for a sufficiently large (but unsuccessful) TLC bid. As far as I know and as far as I can tell, the people behind TLC have their hearts in exactly the right place, so I would be thrilled for this to happen.

Prove me wrong; I would love to be wrong. I would absolutely love it if my numbers turn out to be wrong and Leaky, Inc. were to end up with the card. I would love it like Kevin Keegan. Please, please donate if you haven't done so already; not only will it increase the chance of the TLC bid winning, it ought to increase the chance of other mysterious non-specific good things happening as well...

Incidentally, if Leaky, Inc. should happen to win and if I were somehow to end up with the card myself through the suggested TLC raffle, I expect I would put the card straight back up for auction - this time, with the aforementioned MS Society Scotland to benefit. (Yeah, yeah. I'm looking for a pat on the head from JKR. I admit it.) The same thing would apply all over again, but presumably it would go to an investor second time round, now people have a much clearer idea of how much the world is prepared to pay for the card. It might even go for more second time round.

Oh, and I do hope that Order of the Phoenix turns out not to suck.

In other Potter-related news, my quest to secure sufficient funding to attend Nimbus - 2003 continues one baby step at a time. Sorting out my computer is an early step in the chain which leads to me applying for work. Another step is signing up for all sorts of free frequent-flyer-mile related offers, promotions and related gubbins. I have a shade over 25,000 miles with Delta; if I can get up to the 100,000 required for a high-season transatlantic return coach flight to Nimbus then truly I will be worthy of the name jiggery_pokery. Watch this space! I probably won't go on in great detail because trying to convince other people to join your money-making schemes is somehow not quite the done thing. However, there are lots of nice things I could refer you to, particularly if you want to receive lots and lots and lots of junk mail.

There seem to be considerable bonuses upon bonuses available for joining online casinos and sportsbooks. Sportsbooks are beatable; join two, back opposing teams on the same near-even-money proposition with the draw barred and you'll make more profit on the bonuses than you lose on the vig. (Yesno?) Extracting the maximum bonus for minimum loss from casinos seems rather riskier, though - more of a rich man's game, which rather defeats the object of the exercise. UltimateBet's $5 convinces me that there are points to be earned here, but somehow I strongly lack confidence about being able to extract value. Hmm.

Other developments today: discovered just-dial and have a sudden urge to telephone someone - anyone! - in the US for 5p/minute. Didn't get to play the Haggle game discussed yesterday in the end, but it's ready to be run early next year.
Current Mood: inspired
Current Music: New Bemani 3-65!

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2002 04:25 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I'd have guessed that there would be plenty of people willing to donate $5 or so - it's not a lot of money, and 1 dollar seems a bit pitiful for people who can afford more. Add to that the fact that a few large donations will quickly skew the average upwards and I'd guess the mean as being somewhat over five bucks. Of course, this is all random guesswork and I'm probably being wildly optimistic. As for TLC's chances in the action, that's where my pessimism kicks in. I can all too easily see it being picked up by a rich collector who wouldn't release the content in a timely fashion (if at all). After all that, as a total spoiler-phobe, I'm not sure that I want to know what it says (I reckon I can resist temptation for a good 5-6 seconds).

I'd be interested to see a comparison of how many people have read the book vs seen the film. Working from your numbers and saying that a cinema ticket is about the same price as a paperback book, that gives us twice as many filmgoers as bookworms. But... On the one hand, some people will have bought the book in hardback (although a much smaller fraction for PS and CoS than for GoF). On the other hand, there will be the people who go to see the movie two or more times. On the gripping hand, lots of copies of the book will have been read by more than one person - parents reading it to their children (and indeed for themselves), multiple siblings, loans to friends and relatives, libraries etc - I can easily see each copy being read by an average of 2-3 people, tipping the balance in favour of the bookworms.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2002 09:40 am (UTC)
Cold hard light of day: tend to agree with you throughout. This means that the Leaky, Inc. war chest might well end up being larger than I had thought last night (80 envelopes in the mail so far is a very good haul!) and that the popularity of the book relative to the films means that the asking price may be yet higher still.

Dig in, folks - I fear it's going to take a lot to bring the bacon home... :-/
Date:December 9th, 2002 09:29 am (UTC)


Does J. K. Rowling have MS, or is she solely a patron? I'm curious because my mom has MS (diagnosed in 1986), and I haven't heard that she was involved with the cause at all...

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