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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July, 2005, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
UK retailers fight for Potter sales
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

With wizardry workshops, fire-eating displays and snake-care classes, British retailers are pulling out all the stops to persuade people to buy the new Harry Potter book - which goes on sale at midnight on Friday - from them.

Harry Potter promotional poster
The sixth Harry Potter book goes on sale on 16 July
Bookshops, online stores and supermarket chains are embroiled in a retail war as the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince looms.

Readers can pre-order the book online for as little as 8.96 as retailers slice as much as possible off the 16.99 recommended retail price.

And on the high street, bookshop managers are gunning for buyers with midnight openings, in-store entertainment and complimentary offers.

Borders shops will stay open until midnight on Friday, with events ranging from face-painting and fire-eating to "University of Wizardry workshops" and owl demonstrations.

The chain plans a "reduced" Potter performance that will see actors race through the first five books in five minutes.

Waterstone's is giving a free children's book - Lionboy by Zizou Corder - to every Potter purchaser.

It also plans queue parties at 140 branches in the UK and Ireland and a star-studded VIP party at its store in Oxford Street, central London.

Harry Potter promotional offer
Waterstone's are one of several chains offering promotional deals
Ottakar's will hold costume competitions and classes in caring for such "magical creatures" as snakes and toads.

And many smaller, independent shops will hold their own launch events on what is expected to be one of the biggest book-buying days of the year.

British fans have spent 37.6m on the last Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Some 1.67 million copies were sold on the first day alone, with 17.5m handed over.

That is more than all four of Dan Brown's bestsellers made in the first six months of 2005.

Sales of the sixth Harry Potter book are expected to be even higher - but the hefty discounts many retailers are offering to entice shoppers will have an impact on their profits.

Publishers have woken up to the fact that there's money in children
Julian Esposito
The average over-the-counter price of the fifth Potter book was around 11 - but the average for the sixth will be closer to 10.

The retailers hope the people they attract to their stores or websites to buy Harry Potter will keep shopping there in the future.

Borders is giving pre-ordering customers a 20% discount on every other book bought in the two weeks after the Potter release.

Waterstone's is offering up to 50 off future purchases to customers who pre-order the book.

And Ottakar's is pointing Potter readers to other fantasy authors that might take their fancy.

They're all cutting each other's throats - what a silly game
Paul Waller
Bags of Books shop
"JK Rowling has opened the floodgates," says Julian Esposito, of the Borders children's team. "Publishers have woken up to the fact that there's money in children."

But the heavy promotional spend can outweigh the profits - at least in the short term.

"Because of the price war and the promotional costs, it's a loss leader for the industry," Mr Esposito says.

It is a "wonderful opportunity thrown away" by book chains, according to Paul Waller, owner of the Bags of Books children's bookshop in Lewes, Sussex.

High profits

"They're all cutting each other's throats," he says. "They won't sell any more copies because everyone will want to buy it. What a silly game."

Waterstone's buyer Sam Harrison admits his company is investing heavily to promote the latest Potter instalment.

But he says the sales will be high enough to cancel out that expenditure.

"Even with those costs, our profits will still be very high," he says.

Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer has seen sales rise as a result of Potter
But it is not just about this week's or this month's sales, Mr Harrison explains.

He believes the book chains can help children develop a lifelong interest in reading.

"It isn't simply a case of investing in this book. We want to get children excited in reading beyond the Potter series."

He points to Darren Shan, Eoin Colfer and Michelle Paver as authors whose careers have been boosted by the JK Rowling phenomenon.

"The ballpark has shifted," Mr Harrison says. "There's a huge amount of investment in children's fantasy and a rejuvenated interest in the genre.

"It's important we make the Harry Potter launch as exciting as possible to encourage the readers of tomorrow."

Mike Richards of Egmont Books, British publisher of the Lemony Snicket series, also sounds a cautionary note.

"The hype is secondary - the product takes centre stage.

"The temptation is to try and create hype around everything that one publishes. This poses a great danger to our credibility."

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