- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

Maybe it’s magic, but Harry Potter has outdone himself again.

Amazon.com has received at least 1.4 million preorders for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” making the sixth installment in J.K. Rowling’s series about the young magician and his friends — being released tomorrow — the biggest new product release in company history.

The previous record holder, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” had more than 1.3 million preorders on Amazon in advance of its June 21, 2003, release.

Bookstore chain Barnes & Nobles Inc. predicts it will sell 50,000 copies an hour for the first 24 hours that the book will be on sale, spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said.

“We believe it will be the biggest day in publishing history,” said Ms. Keating, who estimated that 3 million people will visit more than 660 Barnes & Noble stores this weekend.

The retailer and other bookstores across the country will have “Midnight Magic” parties and extended hours tonight to celebrate the new release with eager young readers.

Barnes & Noble already has more than 1 million preorders for the new book — the same amount as the total number of copies sold during the first weekend the previous Potter book was released in 2003, Ms. Keating said.

An estimated 60 percent of children 6 and over will read the new release, according to a nationwide consumer survey from competing bookstore chain Borders Group Inc.

Although Borders does not disclose how many copies the company or its stores ordered and have on reserve, the retailer has seen an increase in reservations, said Beth Bingham, Borders Group Inc., public relations manager.

“For this Harry Potter I can tell you we’ve taken more reservations than we did on the last one in 2003,” Ms. Bingham said, noting that more than 900,000 copies were sold over the first weekend of that book’s release — 750,000 on the first day.

The U.S. Postal Service, which will be delivering the books ordered through Amazon.com, will not use extra carriers tomorrow. But because of the extra load, “some may be riding their routes and not walking,” joked spokeswoman Joanne Veto.

Borders’ survey found that 25 percent of children plan on finishing the book’s 672 pages within the first 24 hours of receiving it.

“That’s some pretty amazing reading,” Ms. Bingham said. “We’re just thrilled that kids would be that excited about it and want to read it so quickly … everyone’s trying to figure out who the Half-Blood Prince is.”

Two-thirds of the respondents Borders surveyed said that they will read the book within the first week of purchasing.

“We’re hoping that the book will kick off an entire summer of reading for kids,” said Diane Mangan, Borders Group Inc., category director of children’s books.

The book’s popularity stems from Harry’s character, who is faced with what seems to be insurmountable obstacles, but is able to overcome them and typically resolve the issues on his own — empowering for children to read, said Sherry Quinones, Frederick County (Md.) Public Libraries supervisor for children’s services.

“It’s such a wonderful adventure and even magical — magical in the sense that it takes you away from your everyday life — it’s breathtaking,” Mrs. Quinones said.

The system will hold its first Harry Potter party tonight from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., with a costume contest, treasure hunt and crafts such as potions and quill making.

Barnes & Noble’s “Midnight Magic” will begin at 6 p.m. and last until the book’s release at midnight.

“We’re going to have all sorts of fun activities for kids and parents to do,” said Ms. Keating, including games, prizes, magic shows and costume contests.

Borders and Waldenbooks will host in-store “Midnight Magic” parties too — and treat Potter fans to activities including mask-making, science experiments, magic crafts and — of course — all things Harry Potter.

The company is estimating more than a half-million people will attend the “Midnight Magic” parties hosted at more than 460 stores in the U.S. as well as other Borders stores around the world.

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