LONDON (Reuters) – The sixth and penultimate installment of the “Harry Potter” saga goes on sale at the weekend, ending months of hype, gag orders and arrests marking the build-up to the publishing event of the year.
Book stores bracing for the latest outbreak of “Pottermania” cannot remember a launch like the one planned for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
“There’s nothing quite like Harry Potter in publishing,” said Caroline Horn, children’s book expert at the Bookseller magazine.
In a carefully orchestrated opening, witching hour arrives at one minute past midnight London time on Saturday (2301 GMT Friday), allowing readers young and old to pour into shops at the same time around the world and snap up book six.
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At the same time, author J K Rowling starts reading from the book in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, and will hold a press conference for 70 children on Sunday.
Attempts to protect the plot surrounding the escapades of the boy wizard and his pals have been almost as elaborate.
With book sales likely to run into the tens of millions, when a handful of copies were inadvertently sold before the deadline in Canada, purchasers were ordered not to disclose its contents, and, according to media reports, even not to read it.
Ten million copies have been printed for the American market alone, online retail giant Amazon.com Inc had orders for more than 1.4 million copies, and U.S. bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. said its pre-orders had topped one million.
BATTLE FOR SALES
Retailers are engaged in an aggressive discount battle.
“There is no sign of the sales figures waning, and booksellers have been working hard on marketing and the discounting has been even heavier,” said Horn.
“That’s what it is about this year — market share.”
Around 275 million copies of the five previous Potter books have been sold worldwide, and speculation about what happens to the main characters in episode six is rife.
A Web site offering what it claimed was an electronic version of the book was closed down, and two British men were charged last month with firearms offences, accused of trying to sell a stolen copy of the Harry Potter book to a tabloid newspaper.
In May, bets that one of the main characters would die were suspended after a flurry of wagers aroused suspicions about a leak.
“There is a huge amount of security around the book right up to the moment the clock strikes midnight,” said Richard Cristofoli, brand director at British book retailer WH Smith.
“No one will have seen the book right through our supply chain. Only at that point are they allowed to break the seal.”
Rowling first thought up the Harry Potter character in 1990, and after the original book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was turned down by several publishers, Bloomsbury finally offered to print it.
The adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft have won over a new generation of young readers and been adapted into a movie series.
They also made Rowling the wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom, with a personal fortune estimated in 2004 at $1 billion.