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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Potter magic fails to rub off on retailers
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Business Reporter

Harry Potter is destined to break all sales records
The hype surrounding Harry Potter reached fever pitch at midnight on Friday, with the release of the latest instalment in the boy wizard's adventures.

A great deal has been written about the economics of Pottermania.

But who, apart from author JK Rowling and publishers Bloomsbury and Scholastic in the US - expecting a healthy boost in pre-tax profits - will actually make any money?

And when the fairy dust has cleared what effect, if any, will it have on the long term fortunes of the book trade?


One group of people the Potter magic has failed to rub off on are Britain's 1,500 independent booksellers.

The only thing which would come close would be maybe chairman Mao's Little Red Book
Roger Tagholm, Publishing News
The discounts being offered by the big retailers have reduced them to the status of spectators at the Potter cash party.

Some of the big players have put all thought of making a decent profit on the backburner in what one small retailer called an "insane" dash for market share.

Tesco is reportedly planning to sell the latest Potter at half the publishers' recommended retail price of 16.99.

Similar big discounts are expected at Asda and Woolworths.

Online retailer Amazon is also getting in on the act.

'Incredibly competitve'

The company said on Wednesday it had received over 350,000 pre-orders for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, smashing the record of 65,000 set by its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Amazon.com's books director Bill Carr said: "We have never seen anything do this well, as a new product release.

"We are offering it at a sharp discount. For example, Harry Potter is at 40% of the list price on the US site.

"It is certainly an incredibly competitive playing field, for what is a hotly demanded consumer item."

The sheer scale of the Potter phenomenon has turned conventional book trade logic on its head.

Nearest rival

In many cases, it would be cheaper for independent book stores to buy the new Harry Potter from amazon - or their local supermarket - than direct from the publishers.

Roger Tagholm, of Publishing News, said: "It is just out there on its own. There is Harry Potter and there is the rest of the book trade.

"It is something apart entirely. The only thing which would come close would be maybe Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

"That is the only thing which might have a print run approaching this one."

In 2001, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire sold 1,846,736 copies, with an estimated value of 12,908,685, according to Alex Hamilton's annual analysis of paperback fastsellers.

Its nearest rival was the latest thriller from John Grisham. Sales of his novel, The Brethren, were worth 37% less on 8,107,666.

Feelgood ploy

Helen Fielding is still thought to hold the UK sales record for an individual title, selling 3.5 million copies of Bridget Jones's Diary.

There are so many other great books coming out at the same time that are just going to be ignored
Elaine Henry, independent bookseller
But for a first print run, the boy wizard's latest adventure is likely to break all records by some considerable margin.

Bloomsbury is thought to be shipping two million books in the initial print run for the UK. About 8.5 million books are thought to be destined for the US.

And Harry is nothing if not a global phenomenon, with orders taken from more than 150 countries around the world.

For the UK supermarkets, the latest Potter is a loss-leader, a feelgood ploy to attract families into their aisles.

"It is a battle to see who can sell the book the cheapest and I suppose you make money on the other things you sell in the store," said Mr Tagholm.

'Books are cool'

But he still believes there will be a halo effect for the rest of the industry.

"Even taking all of these things into consideration, I still think this is good news for the book trade.

"It would just be too cynical of me to think otherwise.

"If nothing else it creates the impression among kids that books are cool.

"It puts books on the front page, alongside Beckham.

"The only bigger story is if Harry Potter signed for Real Madrid."

Little demand

Elaine Henry, who owns Word Power, a small independent shop, close to the Edinburgh cafe where JK Rowling began writing, is not so sure.

She is selling the latest Harry Potter at full price, and is not expecting a great deal of demand.

She has knocked a token 2 off the recommended retail price for customers at her shop's website.

But she cannot hope to compete with the likes of Tesco and Asda, let alone the major bookselling chains such as Waterstone's and Ottaker's.

"It is difficult to give the discounts that the big chains are giving.

"I think many of them are shooting themselves in the foot. It is more about getting people into their shops and building up their brand."

She believes the rest of the book trade, which has been experiencing declining sales in the UK, in non-Potter years, is unlikely to see much benefit.

"There are so many other great books coming out at the same time that are just going to be ignored.

"People talk about it being a publishing phenomenon, but it has gone beyond that. It is about marketing now, in the same way that David Beckham has become this big brand.

"There are so many other more exciting things going on in the book world."

Amazon.com's books director Bill Carr
"It's really just shattering all our records across the world..."

Potter magic cheers Bloomsbury
20 Jun 03  |  Business
Potter sets new online sales record
18 Jun 03  |  Business


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