Saturday, July 21, 2007

Keeping a Secret

This week, the world learned that not everyone could keep a promise or honor a secret. With the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series, there were some gaffes (as I suppose any large scale operation is wont to experience). The mistaken early release of the real book by an American company put what some people said were “real copies” of the book out in public. Those who mistakenly received it couldn’t resist sharing the information. And the excitement for many turned to dismay.

I have a friend who, since I became excited about the series, has tried to spoil it for me. I used to hold parties the day after the book release so everyone could rejoice (and take a break from reading). This one friend, however, would instead taunt people with information. “You know there’s a mistake in there,” was his taunt one year. Another he kept hinting at the identity of someone important who met “his” death. So, I stopped having the parties: not because I couldn’t handle it (okay, I lie: it pissed me off something fierce), but because I didn’t need that rudeness in my life.

With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this same person sent me an e-mail that, immediately after his opening paragraph, launched into what looked like the dedication and first chapter of the book. The subject of the e-mail hinted that he “found the book” and had read the first 14 chapters. (I think my computer is flaming still from my response.)

And I realized that few people understand the ideas of embargo, secret, promise and respect.

With every book release, the publisher agrees to sell the book to distributors who agree to embargo the book: that is, hold it without distribution or revealing information in it until a certain time. Distributors agree and receive the document, then, at the appointed time, do their distribution voodoo. It’s not rocket science. It’s business.

But we cannot do that anymore. I’ve worked in the media for years and it’s been at least a decade since my company has sent an embargoed news release. The purpose was to allow the media time to write something to be released at or after the agreed-upon date. Again, not rocket science. The reporter accepted the information with the embargo and leaked it anyway, stating that “no one” would keep it confidential.

And he was right. At about that time, the media stopped embargoing materials — not because they couldn’t, but because “no one would.”

I have not read any book reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I have heard about the spoilers. And not just from over-anxious children who can’t keep a secret. (Ask my brother about the Lite-Brite he received for his eighth birthday.) These were people who know better and have the technological savvy to share it far and wide. Now it’s not just reporters. Thanks to that wonderful gift of the Internet, everyone can know whether they wish to or not.

I know it may sound simplistic, and many of my entries on this blog hint to a naïveté I should have lost years ago. However, I stand by my idea of honesty and fairness. In our heart of hearts, we know what’s wrong and what’s right. If you promise to keep a secret, keep a secret. And if you can’t, keep it among your fellow spoilsports.

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