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Records set worldwide as Muggles snap up Harry

June 23, 2003|From Times wire reports

Copies of the latest "Harry Potter" novel flew out of bookstores this weekend faster than its hero on a Firebolt broomstick, setting records around the world.

"The sales of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' surpassed our expectations," Steve Riggio, chief executive officer of Barnes & Noble, said Sunday. "We expected to sell 1 million copies by the end of the first week. Instead, we sold that many in just the first 48 hours."

Nobody in publishing had seen anything like it, at least since the last "Potter" book came out three years ago. Borders Group Inc. reported worldwide sales of 750,000 the first day, a record for the chain. Amazon.com shipped out more than 1 million copies of the new book, making Saturday the largest distribution day of a single item in e-commerce history.

In London, the supermarket chain Tesco said it sold 317,400 copies of the fifth in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series in the first 24 hours, seven times the number sold in the first week of Potter 4, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Sales records dashed

"The book has now broken all our sales records and there is no doubt that this will be the bestselling book we have ever stocked," said Tesco book buyer Caroline Ridding.

"It is the fastest-selling book we have ever had," echoed a spokeswoman for W.H. Smith, Britain's largest bookseller. "They were going through the tills at more than eight copies a second."

Some retailers had worried that even an enormous first printing -- 8.5 million in the United States alone -- wouldn't last long enough to keep up with demand. A lot of latecomers found themselves settling for a mere pre-order in place of a book.

Riggio said many Barnes & Noble stores had run out of copies and that more would arrive "over the next few days." The Book House in Albany, N.Y., sold out its 1,050 copies of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by Saturday afternoon, even though it limited purchases to two per person.

A Borders bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, had just enough Potter books for the people who had reserved them, and another shipment was expected by today or Tuesday. Store manager Mathew Kowalski said many customers who could not get the new book bought copies of the other Potter novels.

"We sold some other books, but it was mainly 'Harry Potter' sales this weekend," Kowalski said.

The release of Potter 5 was not flawless. Some stores put the book on sale before its June 21 publication date and a seller in Lynchburg, Va., Givens Books, discovered that more than 40 of its copies were missing 33 pages. Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of "Potter," said the books would be replaced.

Rowling's first four "Potter" books have sold an estimated 192 million copies worldwide and have been published in at least 55 languages and distributed in more than 200 countries. Blockbuster movies were made of the first two books.

The hype for Harry didn't stop critics from enjoying "Order of the Phoenix." The New York Times, in a rare front page review, praised the author's "tirelessly inventive imagination." USA Today cited Rowling's "wonderful, textured writing." Associated Press said: "It was worth the wait. And then some."

Lights burned all through the weekend as "Potter" fans didn't let anything as silly as sleep keep them from working through the lengthy book.

Obliterating bedtime

Geronimo "G" Gisleson, 11, of New Orleans received his copy Saturday and was up to page 650 by midday Sunday.

When his mother, Susan, went into his room Sunday morning, she realized he'd been reading all night, using the light from a bathroom across the hall that had been left on as a night light for his younger brother. "He was sprawled on the floor with the book next to him," she said.

Pottermania played out similarly in Taiwan, Brazil, Australia, Kenya and elsewhere. Nearly 2,700 customers at a Borders bookstore in Singapore pre-ordered the book, with the first buyer arriving 10 hours before it went on sale.

"I had to wait," explained Tan Siong Chin, 15, who wanted to make sure he grabbed a book before they disappeared. "The chances of getting it are not guaranteed."

Laure Strauss, a bilingual Parisian, bought the book at an English-language bookstore in Paris. "You've got to read it in English," she said. "The way they say 'Muggles' in French -- it doesn't sound right."

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