- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The release of the seventh and likely final “Harry Potter” book on Saturday will mean the end of the cash cow for its U.S. publisher, but it won’t be bringing big profits to booksellers.

Scholastic Inc. will release J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Many bookstores are expecting hordes of people for the book, especially with a fifth movie in theaters and an announced Potter theme park for Orlando, Fla.

“It’s unique in my book-selling experience,” said Carol Troxell, owner of New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville, for decades. “There’s just been incredible interest in the release date.”

Despite the popularity, booksellers won’t be making much money off the new book, said Laura Dawson, a consultant for the book publishing industry. To draw customers, Amazon is discounting the book by about 50 percent, while Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc. are both selling it 40 percent off. Amazon, which has more than 1 million preorders, has said it does not expect to profit on the book.

Discounts create competition for independent sellers, which often cannot survive pricing books below cost, Mrs. Troxell said.

“It’s a constant problem for booksellers,” Mrs. Troxell said.

Large bookstores like Barnes & Noble aren’t profiting as much as they used to, since the sales period for the book has been compressed, said William Armstrong, an analyst with C.L. King & Associates. Excitement, though, is still good for business, he said.

“Anything that brings customers into the store can’t be a bad thing,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Never a bad thing, but not always beneficial, since the extra customers may only be interested in the specific book, said Gordon Dickerson, owner of the Corner Shelf Bookstore in Culpeper, Va.

Also, he said the profit potential for independent bookstores isn’t what it used to be his store will sell the new book at a 15 percent discount to compete with chain bookstores.

“The independent bookstore gets undercut by big box retailers and particularly the Internet,” Mr. Dickerson said. “As an extremely popular book, they have to pull the price down because there are so many people trying to profit.”

In an effort to compete, other independent booksellers are offering the book at a discount. At Olsson’s Books and Records in Alexandria, shoppers can buy a voucher for the book at 25 percent off through today, said Sara Krauss, assistant book manager. The book will then sell regularly at 20 percent off.

Vertigo Books in College Park will pair a 20 percent discount with a midnight release party, said Rebecca Semiatin, who works at the bookstore.

“We can try to compete with some of the bigger stores, even though it’s really not possible,” Mrs. Semiatin said. “But we do well. We have a good base of very loyal customers, and we throw a great party.”

Potter parties are one of the strategies booksellers are using to draw in customers. Mrs. Troxell will have a midnight Potter party at her store, complete with refreshments and costumed fans.

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