Sunday, March 16, 2003
New York The U.S. publisher of the new "Harry Potter" novel is selling some copies straight to readers. Bookstores complain that means less business for them.
During the past couple of weeks, Scholastic Children's Books has been taking orders for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" at school fairs around the country. Customers pay the full list price, $29.99 -- far more than the cost at Amazon.com -- but they also receive a free "Harry Potter" baseball hat. A portion of the proceeds goes to the schools.
The new Potter novel, the fifth in J.K. Rowling's beloved series, comes out midnight June 21, a Saturday. Those ordering at the fairs can pick up their copies at local warehouses eight hours later.
Publishers have an obvious motive to sell direct: They keep more of the money. Scholastic has been selling books, including the earlier Potter works, at fairs for years. But this is the first time a Potter book has been pre-sold, offered before publication. And some retailers say they can't afford to lose any sales during a difficult economic time.
In a letter sent Thursday to Scholastic, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Assn., Avin Domnitz, said selling the book directly to students was "beyond the pale."
"This action can only be described as an assault on your retail customers," writes Domnitz, whose association represents about 2,000 independent bookstore companies.
"This will be the biggest publishing/bookselling event of the year. Bookshops, by promoting your book, will create goodwill, credibility, and profitability for themselves AND for Scholastic. ... You are undermining all of the effort being put forth by booksellers nationwide, and it simply defies belief."
Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman said the publisher was "very concerned" by the unhappiness of booksellers and was "considering options" that she declined to specify.
Scholastic, which says schools had asked for the book to be made available, estimates sales through fairs would total between 1 and 2 percent -- about 100,000 copies -- of the first printing of 6.8 million. Corman also said that the publisher was planning to spend about $500,000 on promotional events in stores.
"We believe this should be a joyous event," she said.
Rowling's four previous Potter novels have worldwide sales of more than 190 million and many readers already have ordered copies of the new book through retailers.
Within hours of the announcement in January that "Order of the Phoenix" was coming out, the book topped the bestseller lists of Amazon and Barnes & Noble's Web sites and remained in those spots as of Thursday. Independent stores also have reported strong advance sales.