The popular booklovers’ subscription box OwlCrate has recently gained attention for their controversial decision to re-introduce a line of Harry Potter products following J.K. Rowling’s string of transphobic comments in summer 2020. The company’s decision has ignited major backlash from subscribers and book enthusiasts alike, who have accused OwlCrate of neglecting a persistent issue within the reading community and beyond.
Literary subscription boxes such as OwlCrate have come center stage in recent years due to their low prices, easy accessibility and exciting merchandise for book lovers. There are countless companies that offer this service, such as Book of the Month, Fairy Loot, My Book Box and many more. However, OwlCrate is a standout of the bunch for the fun and individualized themes that come with each purchase.
OwlCrate’s curated selection of merchandise changes every month and each delivery is assured to be a hit. According to their website, “Each [OwlCrate] box will contain one brand new hardcover Young Adult novel, as well as 3-5 other bookish keepsakes to help set the mood for your literary adventure.” Though the original OwlCrate boxes are created for a young adult audience, typically ages 14 and up, the company has recently expanded to create OwlCrate Jr., a subscription box containing middle-grade literature and goodies suitable for the younger reader.
Many avid readers from around the world have praised OwlCrate for its wonderful merchandise, packaging and ability to facilitate a love for reading in individuals of all ages. For instance, YouTube reading enthusiasts, dubbed BookTubers, frequently highlight their OwlCrate hauls on their channels to much fanfare.
Though OwlCrate is undoubtedly successful and loved by much of the reading community, the company’s actions in the last year have hurtled them into international attention and scrutiny, therefore placing the future of the company in jeopardy.
J.K. Rowling’s transphobic tweets, posted in June 2020, shocked and saddened Harry Potter fans globally and tarnished her reputation indefinitely. The saga began when Rowling posted a tweet in response to an op-ed piece that discussed people who menstruate. The tweet read:
“‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Rowling, though one of the past decade’s most famous authors, is not as revered as she used to be. Rather, she has isolated herself from many of the people who have supported her beloved Harry Potter series for years. With further investigation, many have noticed strong transphobic themes in Rowling’s novel “Troubled Blood,” published under her sometimes-used pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The book is the fifth in Rowling’s detective series, “Cormoran Strike.” Thus, Rowling’s own transphobia has gone beyond her personal beliefs and has infiltrated her literature, a fact that doesn’t sit well with many.
The drama didn’t stop there. Though she continued to be publicly criticized, Rowling published more controversial Tweets to her Twitter feed, which boasts over 14 million followers. According to an article by Alyssa Shotwell posted on The Mary Sue, “The breaking point for many was after Rowling penned a 3,600-word transphobic manifesto (riddled with factual inaccuracy) to drive home the point of how much she continues to willfully misunderstand trans issues, trans rights, and trans people, and feels oppressed in standing up for her ‘convictions.’”
Many of her fans, having been avid followers of the Harry Potter series since its inception, were utterly disheartened by the author’s public declarations of negativity toward the LGBTQ+ community and subsequently decided that they would no longer support her work.
Though some fans struggled to completely let go of their admiration for the Harry Potter series, the controversy following Rowling’s shocking tweets and new publications undoubtedly worried companies that had previously supported the author, and more specifically, the world of Harry Potter. For OwlCrate, the author’s comments were unacceptable, and in a statement posted on their Instagram page on June 8, 2020, they announced that “OwlCrate will no longer include licensed Harry Potter merchandise in [their] boxes.”
The most popular of the Harry Potter merchandise included in the monthly OwlCrate boxes was the mug series created by Cara Kozik, which was also excluded following OwlCrate’s announcement last summer. However, many wished to complete their collection of Harry Potter memorabilia regardless of the controversy that ensued.
On Aug. 10, 2021, OwlCrate owner Korrina Ede announced to the company’s Instagram that the collection of Harry Potter mugs and memorabilia would return to OwlCrate boxes this year. In her post, Ede comments on the personal nature of one’s decision to continue their support of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, and for her, it was too important to completely disregard.
Later in The Mary Sue’s article, Shotwell writes, “In making this decision, OwlCrate is keeping like-minded customers, but losing a lot of support in the book community.” Ede’s decision will undoubtedly influence OwlCrate’s success; many former subscribers and supporters have spoken out against the controversial decision.
“No one is saying that you have to immediately stop loving HP or get your tattoos removed; if you want to privately continue to love it then go ahead. But using your platform & business to promote it is a whole different thing that sends a very clear message about who is and isn’t welcome in your online space & your clientele,” said one user on the post.
However, OwlCrate continued to deflect criticism for the decision to continue with the merchandise. In a statement posted on Aug. 11, Ede stated, “We want to make it clear that we love and support the transgender community, and we fully support transgender rights. We know that for some of you reading this, you have made the difficult decision to remove HP from your life due to the author’s personal views. We also know that there are many fans of this series who can’t let go of the positive impact the books/fandom have had on their lives, and feel the community has grown into something separate from the author. We support and respect everyone’s personal decision in how they approach this fandom.”
In an Instagram post from Aug. 16, OwlCrate once again decided to indefinitely halt the production and inclusion of any Harry Potter merchandise in their OwlCrate boxes, as well as sales of Harry Potter-related items in their store. Furthermore, the proceeds from any orders placed prior to the announcement will go directly to charities supporting transgender rights. The organization also donated $10,000 to The National Center for Transgender Equality. Many subscribers have taken positively to this announcement and support the decisions made by the company to amend the hurt that was caused by the continuation of their Harry Potter merchandise.