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Harry Potter – a Logistics Marvel

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The release of the seventh and the final book in the Harry Potter series might just have been the most anticipated affair in the recent history of publishing. It certainly was the largest. For the Potterheads around the world, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

The thought of Harry Potter and logistics together is something most people never think of. In the US alone, around 12 million copies were printed. In delivering those books on time to customers across the United States and 29 other countries under a blanket of heavy security, the U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc. understood that with millions of fans pre-ordering books and expecting them to arrive on Saturday morning or be ready at their booksellers in the pre-dawn hours, failure to have books available as promised was not an option. UPS, DHL, FedEx and the US Postal Service all carried parcel deliveries of the books, which by contract, could not appear in stores before mid-night July 21. In the previous years due to the contractual guarantee of delivery on time, the transportation and warehouse vendors had to increase security and product tracking. This was done, so, the books are out with least amount of risk and exposure points. Even people in war zone got their copies. Paxton International, an Afghanistan based Logistics Company sent one of its executives to Dubai to buy the book at exact time of its release in London and then catch the next flight to deliver the books.

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Amazon’s U.S. fulfilment centres processed approximately 18 tons of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” per hour and shipped to more than 43,000 zip codes across the country. Within 24 hours, booksellers of both the brick and mortar and online variety had collectively sold 8.3 million copies of the final episode in author J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series.

The planning for the rollout started months before Scholastic even had the finished manuscript. Each carrier used were the ones who had previous experience working with Harry Potter franchise and thus knew he challenges that awaited ahead of them. During the months leading up to the rollout, they met with Scholastic managers frequently and developed detailed distribution plans. They were bound by strict confidentiality agreements until the project was complete.

The plans were based on various factors, such as length of haul and, for international shipments, customs clearance. The carriers were also expected to balance the need to deliver the books early enough so that Scholastic’s customers to supply their own outlets. They also had to address matters pertaining to security and cost.

Various meetings with not only the carrier’s management team but also all the essential people including the drivers and the security team were called so as to understand and solve the day-to-day problems they face.

Scholastic began the process of calculating load plans when they were informed about the book’s actual size and weight. So that they could see how many books could get in a truck and then reserved the capacity. However, Scholastic’s logistics partners took on the responsibility, when it came to the particulars of loading. All truckloads were exactly equally heavy. The uniform loads were palletized, with each pallet shrink-wrapped with a corrugated top and banded. This had dual purpose. Apart from the obvious, it was also very easy to tell, if any book had been leaked. Apart from all these, every load was photographed before the trailer doors were closed and sealed.

The process of moving the books from the binderies to distribution centres run by major resellers Like Barnes & Noble, Amazon etc. got under way as the release date neared. The delivery schedule was based on length-of-haul calculations from the binderies. Shipments for destinations farthest from the binderies moved out first for delivery to staging locations within a day’s drive of the distribution centres.

All the staged trailers were brought to respective company facilities chosen for their tight security. On the site, a trailer-tracking and -monitoring technology were used to provide geo-fencing around each trailer. In addition to that, several times a day, electronic safeguards, security personnel checked the trailers’ seals.

In total, around 70% of the loads moved entirely over the road and the rest moved as intermodal shipments. Still, the challenges of the project were not over. One of the issues was asset utilization. As with all truckload carriers, the concern was over keeping its equipment productive and moving. But the sheer size of the project and the security requirements made it likely that some trailers were tied up in this project longer than usual. The main reason given for such an issue was that since the distribution was scheduled with such a vast volume they had to work far ahead of when they wanted the customer to have the product.

One of the reasons for the project’s success was in part due to the carriers’ efforts to communicate the delivery plan throughout. They even set up a special toll-free number for drivers or consignees to call if they had any delivery issues. Keeping security in mind, all the books were packaged, wrapped, and labelled. for example, there was no labels identifying books, and opaque black shrink-wrap on skids and pallets obscured the contents and made any tampering quickly evident. To add to the security, drivers were only told that they were picking up printed material.

One of the carriers also designed a special label for the shipments that included both the delivery date and instructions in bold type telling drivers not to deliver early, keeping in mind that in their business, early delivery is a good thing. For this, their whole workforce had to be re-trained.The publisher’s logistics team also had to arrange for the air shipment of books to 29 foreign countries to coincide with the release date.

Scholastic used different consignees in different countries. In India, they used Safexpress. They just wanted to use one freight forwarder so as to control the timing of the release from us to the foreign airport. As with the trucked shipments, all of the air shipments also moved on pallets. When it came to scheduling, the goal was to have shipments clear at destination as close to the release date as possible. For this, Scholastic allowed their carriers to put the plan together based on their experiences with clearance and delivery in each country. The shipments finally moved on a total of 17 airlines and all- cargo carriers.

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