To receive my books, I had to sign a four page legal document with Scholastic and my book distributor (very different from a game distributor). The document stated that I can't sell the book early, display the book early, tell anyone where the books are stored, allow employees or myself to borrow or view the book, and all under penalty of serious legal action. I definitely can't take a picture of the cover and show it on my blog (see below for those who claim to have done so). In fact, I haven't even opened the box. It might not even have the Harry Potter books. It might contain a dozen copies of the number 3 book on Amazon, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The new Harry Potter book is number 1 and the book on CD is number 2.
The penalties for breaking the rules are severe and they do take legal action. You can see what happened to those who broke the rules here. The offending companies are facing a $200,000 lawsuit. So this four page document has some teeth and surprisingly, the leaks are extremely limited. I remember it used to be worse with earlier books, but people learn quickly.
That's why I have such a problem with Wizards of the Coast, the 500 Pound Gorilla of the game world and the publisher of the most popular role-playing books. About 60-70% of all role-playing books sold are from Wizards of the Coast. So it's been frustrating that over the last several months, at least three books were released early to the book trade, which uses book distributors instead of game distributors. The book trade, comprised mostly of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and other large stores, broke the street date by selling them early. This included the hugely popular Star Wars Saga Edition and a couple Dungeons & Dragons releases.
I don't think the book trade intentionally broke the date, Wizards just didn't do a good job of letting them know. A four page enfored contract probably wasn't necessary, but maybe a magic marker with a date on a box could have worked. The game trade got apologies from Wizards the first time, more apologies the second time and a promise to fix the process, and then the third time.... silence. It seems the game trade, at least small vocal stores, aren't worth their time.
Street dates are an honor system (lacking a 4 page contract). They level the playing field by requiring vendors to sell product on the same date. It lets the store with the 7pm UPS delivery compete with the store with the 11am delivery. It allows West Coast and East Coast people to get the books at the same time. It's fair. The result of blown street dates or uneven street dates between trades is eroding the value of street dates and eventually they'll be ignored.
The other possibility is that I order my Wizards books from my book distributor, which puts me on the same playing field with Barnes & Noble and the big boys. It's not as good a fit for game stores though and I think it undermines the hobby trade, which Wizards should remember they need for all their other games.
The Deathly Hallows book cover:
or is it this one?