Embargo proves a tricky thing

Welcome Back Potter

July 06, 2000|By Athima Chansanchai

Tick-tock, tick-tock, the countdown continues toward one of the year's most anticipated literary events: Saturday's unveiling of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

That's assuming stores wait to sell them on the mandated date required by Scholastic, the American publisher of the fourth book in the children's series. Yesterday, a third merchant was added to the list of embargo jumpers. Another Wal-Mart, this one in Millville, N.J., reportedly sold some of the coveted copies Friday. Reports of this latest breach came on the heels of two other incidents of prereleased Potters in Virginia, one at a Richmond Wal-Mart.

With sales from the previous three books in the J.K. Rowling series garnering $20 million in the United States, and the suggested retail price for this one at $25.95, greenbacks will fly as fast as Harry's new Firebolt broomstick. At 3.8 million copies (plus 1.5 million in Britain), it's the largest first printing of any book ever. (By comparison, a John Grisham novel averages 2.5 million.) Many stores expect the 734-page fantasy to shoot onto best-seller lists, reducing the cover price in some chains to 30 percent below retail.

Harry is no stranger to such popularity contests. The three Potter hardcovers and a paperback version of the first were simultaneously on the New York Times best-seller lists, nudging the newspaper to launch a separate list for best-selling children's books starting July 23.

Online, Harry Potter IV has held the No. 1 position on Amazon's best-seller list for months due to the frenzied demand of fans who pushed pre-orders past 250,000 - the threshold for delivering copies to customers on Saturday via Federal Express at no extra charge. (The pre-order count is now pushing toward 312,000.) And already Amazon's UK branch is taking pre-orders on Harry Potter V, not due out until July 2001.

Coming tomorrow: A preview of fantasy festivities for area fans, plus a Potter primer to catch parents and wizard wannabes up on the serial's plots and vocabulary.

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