In case you have absolutely nothing to think about this weekend, ponder these Harry Potter numbers. James Covert at the Wall Street Journal reported that Barnes and Noble “had already received more than 500,000 preorders” for J.K. Rowling’s next book scheduled for release on July 21, 2007. Not only that, B&N expects the number to “top the one-million mark by launch date.” Now consider that earlier this month Amazon reported one million plus in preorder sales. Now add on the estimated preorder sales figures for Borders and all the mighty independent bookstores nationwide and you get a whopping magical number conjured by most novelists only in their dreams. Mind you, these are preorders. Good news for everyone, right?
Well, maybe not so good for the bookstores. The competition is fierce. The discounting brutal. Booksellers are complaining that their profit margin is evaporating. (In addition to a smaller profit from the sale price, most will have to schedule extra staff and will probably pay overtime.) The same Wall Street Journal article reports that despite an expected “second quarter sales boost from the publication on July 21” of the Harry Potter book and its equal ability to drive traffic, Barnes and Noble admits they don’t expect the HP publication to drive profit. If the heavy discounting works against B&N, bookstores around the world can probably expect the same result if they participate in the discounting wars. Clearly the major chains hope to make up the difference in additional sales, but anyone attending a Potter release knows that the majority of buyers are simply there to pick up their reserved books. They will stand in line, pay the cashier, and walk out–many turning pages and already absorbed in Harry’s world. Given that other major discount retailers such as Cosco and Sam’s will be offering the books at equally low prices, July 21 and the days that follow will definitely be a buyer’s market.
So, who will profit from the latest Pottermania? Well, J.K. Rowling and the publisher, of course; and then there are those thousands of magicians who will be hired to entertain the Potter troops who stand in line, participate in readathons, and attend all the Potter-themed events that naturally flow from a release of this magnitude. But most of all, I think the most significant profiteers will be those young minds who benefit from a continued reading experience that will, I hope, instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime.