"There's something about Harry"
Retailers race to be first to market with instant bestseller by Kristen Gerencher (CBS.MarketWatch, July 6, 2000)
|NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- If Harry Potter hadn't made a home of his aunt and uncle's cupboard, a host of booksellers would be fighting to adopt the orphan as their own.
"I haven't seen a book like this ever. This is over seven times the largest pre-order we ever had."
The fictional teenage wizard has become the spoils sought in a battle between online bookselling behemoths and their independent brick and mortar counterparts. Retailers are dropping prices on the fourth book in the series -- due out at 12:01 AM Saturday -- in an effort to slay the evil dragon of competitors.
The fanfare is almost beyond the scope of your average muggle, or non-magical mortal in Harry-speak. A carefully choreographed marketing effort has kept many details about "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" shrouded in as much mystery and mysticism as the character himself.
The first three installments in the planned seven-book series sold a total of 20.9 million copies, and publisher Scholastic Inc. (SCHL: news, chart) printed 3.8 million copies of the latest edition ahead of its release. Bookstores and other businesses eager to cash in on Potter popularity are scrambling to get Harry into fans' hands at the earliest possible moment.
Retailers agreed with Scholastic to honor the midnight Saturday embargo to preserve the work's secrecy, while also synchronizing sales across the U.S. and the author's native U.K.
"I haven't seen a book like this ever," said Lyn Blake, general manager of Amazon's bookstore. "This is over seven times the largest pre-order we've ever had."
Amazon (AMZN: news, chart)is counting on Harry to show how the Internet can be, well, Amazonian in pulling off an expected e-commerce coup. The Seattle-based e-tailer has sold 313,000 Harry books in advance, dwarfing its second-biggest advanced order, for John Grisham's "The Brethren" earlier this year, Blake said.
Never one to miss a customer-service calling, Amazon struck a deal with Federal Express (FDX: news, chart)to deliver 250,000 copies Saturday, a move that prompted independent bookstores to cry foul.
"This is just another example of ... how some of the major publishers yield to the pressure of some of the major retailers."
American Booksellers Assn.
The American Booksellers Association, a trade group representing the independents, accused Scholastic of forging an unholy alliance by providing Amazon copies of the book in advance of its release to arrange for overnight shipping, said Oren Treicher, the ABA's chief operating officer.
While the offer was eventually extended to independents as well, it wasn't done fast enough to include many small bookstores' distribution proposals, he said.
"This is just another example of why the playing field in our business is not level and how some of the major publishers yield to the pressure of some of the major retailers," Treicher said.
Begging to differ
Michael Jacobs, Scholastic's senior vice president of trade, disputes the ABA's claim, saying booksellers had equal access to the process, regardless of size or Internet status.
"What the ABA is upset about is that Amazon spent a lot of money to market the fact that they were going to get the books into the hands of people on the 8th of July," he said. "But the last time I checked, the Fed Ex guy doesn't deliver to me in the middle of the night, nor does anybody else."
Even so, about 30,000 Federal Express employees will have a hand in executing the mass shipment, from coordinating routes to collecting bar codes and loading trucks at Amazon distribution centers in six states, said spokesperson Carla Boyd.
The overnight service is accustomed to handling volume of 3.3 million packages around the holidays, but hasn't seen a project of Harry Potter's size and timing since the release of Microsoft's Windows 95, she said.
"It's a huge shipment of one product with a lot of secrecy around it," Boyd said.
What's more, Kozmo.com, known for delivering food and entertainment staples in an hour, said on Thursday that it too will capitalize on the need for instant Harry Potter gratification. Kozmo will take orders for a limited supply of books at 11:30 PM Friday for delivery in its 10 regional markets from midnight to 1:00 AM, spokesperson Stephanie Cohen Glass said.
"A lot of people will see this as an opportunity to be the first on the block to have the book," Glass said. "There's an excitement to being the first to have it."
Along with speed of delivery, retailers also are competing hard on price. The hardcover copy of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" carries a $25.95 list price. Amazon slashed its price by 40 percent to $15.57, and even Kozmo priced below list at $23.36 for the copies to be delivered immediately after the embargo lifts.
What would the bespectacled Harry say about all this corporate sorcery? Quite a feat for a bunch of muggles.