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Expected to fly off shelves, latest Harry Potter book may not return profit
[July 21, 2007]

Expected to fly off shelves, latest Harry Potter book may not return profit

(Register-Guard, The (Eugene, OR) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jul. 20--The last Harry Potter book -- set for release just after midnight July 20-- should in theory be a magical money maker for booksellers.

It has an unprecedented first printing of 12 million copies and a hefty retail list price of $34.99. Over the past decade, the novels by J.K. Rowling have cast a spell on kids and adults alike.

Some retailers, though, aren't expecting to see much gold from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" -- the seventh and final volume in the hugely popular series about the young wizard.

Online booksellers, mega-bookstores and big-box stores, such as Costco, are offering the book at deep discounts of up to 50 percent off the list price.

They appear to be selling the book for little more than the price they paid the publisher.

Online giant has gone as far as to say that it won't make a profit on the book, which it has been selling for $17.99 leading up to its release. Those customers also received a $5 certificate to spend at the site in August.

"We've taken the opportunity to expose customers to other parts of our Web site," Amazon spokesman Sean Sundwall said.

Other retailers, such as grocery stores, may be using the book as a loss leader to bring customers in the door, with the hope that they'll fill their carts with other purchases.

Fred Meyer will sell the book for $20.99 -- a 40 percent discount from the list price -- when it opens at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

"We offer that because we know that we'll sell out quickly within the first couple of days because there's not enough of them out there to meet the demand," spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said. "It's kind of a reward to our customers for coming to us for their favorites."

That puts the squeeze on smaller, independent booksellers that say they can't afford to match the deep discounts. Some have decided to simply opt out of the Harry Potter hoopla. Some will sell the book at full price. And others will stay open past midnight with Potter-themed release parties, encouraging customers to dress up in costumes, listen to music, play games -- and browse.

How well their strategies play to the local audience will determine how much cash they have in the register at the end of the night.

The Elephant's Trunk, one of Eugene's best-known children's stores, won't be open for the book's midnight release and won't carry the book until it's available in paperback.

"My book rep from Scholastic said I would not get it even close to the release date," said Christa Gardener, the store's book buyer.

"By the time we do have it, all the big stores have it for 50 percent off, so it's not really worth it to us to carry it. When all the hype dies down, then we'll carry it in paperback."

J. Michaels, a downtown Eugene store that sells high-quality used books and some new books, will close as usual at 5:30 p.m. today.

Then it will reopen at 10 p.m. for 2 hours, owner Jeremy Nissel said. He said he'll offer the new Harry Potter book at its list price of $34.99.

"I don't discount new books," Nissel said, adding that he can't compete that way.

The Smith Family bookstores in Eugene will open their doors at midnight for an hour.

"We're not doing an extravaganza," manager Nancy Smith said. "We just have enough family and customers who want to come in and buy the book."

The store offers a standard 10 percent discount on most new books. It will sell the Potter book for $26.25 -- a 25 percent discount.

At that price, the store expects to make money on the book, Smith said, adding that most book retailers buy the book from publishers at a 40 percent discount off retail list price.

The build-up to this final installment of the Potter saga has been good for business, Smith said.

"There's a sudden interest from people who have never read Harry Potter," she said, which has spurred sales of the previous six volumes.

Two other local independent bookstores, Books Without Borders and the UO Bookstore, are swinging their doors wide open tonight. They're inviting everyone in to buy "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and to celebrate the fictional world of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Laura White, the UO Bookstore's book events coordinator, is expecting 500 to 1,000 people of all ages to drop by for crafts, games, magic tricks and other activities.

"Being a campus bookstore, a lot of the students now grew up with the book, so they're really excited," White said.

The store will sell the latest Harry Potter book for $24.49, a 30 percent discount off list price.

"We decided to give it a nice discount and whatever profit we make, put it back into the party," White said.

The store threw a party in its book department for the last Harry Potter release in 2005. This time, all three floors of the business will be open from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., with most merchandise marked 20 percent off, White said.

"This is a very unique book release," she said. "People are kind of expecting it now. They want to come out and celebrate."

Books Without Borders in the Strand Building in downtown Eugene is expecting about 100 people to attend its Harry Potter party, which will include music, theater and a costume contest.

The store will sell "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" for $27.99, which allows for a small profit, co-owner James Squires said.

So if booksellers won't be making big bucks off Harry Potter, who will?

Albert Greco, a publishing industry analyst and business professor at Fordham University in New York City, estimates that Scholastic, the publisher, will make about $1.40 a copy, or $16.8 million, if it sells 12 million copies.

The author's contract is confidential, but assuming that Rowling receives a 15 percent royalty, she should make about $5.25 a copy, or $63 million, if all 12 million copies sell, Greco said.

To see more of The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

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