Murphy says that the idea for 39 Clues originated out of a brainstorming session led by children's editor David Levithan, who subsequently recruited Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson books) to write Maze of Bones as well as the series' overall story arc.
Since then, bestselling children's authors Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson have signed on for subsequent books, and DreamWorks picked up the movie rights.
"I think it's a different kind of publication that they're releasing at this point, and it really does fit into a trend we're seeing in libraries across country," says Dale Lipschultz, literacy officer for the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services of the American Library Association. "Scholastic has always been very savvy about tapping into trends."
Scholastic has printed a first run of 500,000 copies of Maze of Bones—a large number by most standards, but nothing to compete with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's initial run of 12 million copies.
In addition to the books, which will sell for $12.99 each, Scholastic will also offer trading-card packs for $6.99 and audio CDs for $19.95 tied to the 39 Clues series.
"The fact that they're utilizing a multimedia strategy is interesting," says Drew Crum, an analyst covering Scholastic for Stifel Nicolaus. "They're creating new revenue streams and finding new ways for them to monetize their intellectual property and content."
But at the end of the day, will all of the innovation add up to blockbuster success à la Potter?
Crum, who rates Scholastic shares as a "hold," says that the combination of a difficult macroeconomic headwind for the industry and the low success rates of new titles makes him believe the impact of 39 Clues on Scholastic's top line will be minimal. Crum says that the series is not a factor included in his forecasting model for Scholastic.
An analyst with Citigroup, Catriona Fallon, rates Scholastic as a "sell," and does not expect 39 Clues to provide any real relief for the publisher.
"Despite the hype around the set of authors and the lower price points than Harry Potter, there is still a crowded marketplace for the attention of pre-teenagers," says Fallon in a research note published last week. "39 Clues may be a nice add-on product set for Scholastic but is unproven as a blockbuster to replace Harry Potter."
For its part, Scholastic may be hoping for a miracle, but is all too realistic about the tall task of replicating a literary sensation.
"There's never going to be anything like Harry Potter," says Scholastic's Suzanne Murphy. "We hope that kids love 39 Clues, but for us it's entirely different. Our feeling is, there's never going to be another Harry Potter."