Boycott aimed to highlight threat of megastores

Malaysia’s biggest book chains ended a Harry Potter book sales boycott Tuesday that aimed to highlight how their business is threatened by grocery megastores that slash book prices.

The price dispute left at least 32,000 copies of the best-selling “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” languishing in storage following its release on Saturday.

The three chains, which run more than 100 outlets nationwide, had refused to sell the new book to walk-in customers in protest at what they said were unfair dis-counts offered by supermarket retailers in Malaysia, including Britain’s Tesco PLC and France’s Carrefour SA.

The final volume of the wizard saga released worldwide Saturday was finally placed on the shelves of MPH Bookstores, Popular Book, and Times The Bookshop on Tuesday after the companies held talks with the book’s Malaysian distributor, Penguin Books, said MPH spokesman Donald Kee.

“We agreed not to prolong this anymore,’ Kee said. “Customers are the ones who suffer because they can’t get the book.”

Before the compromise, only people who reserved the book in advance had been able to buy it from those stores.

“We’re not crybabies, but we believe that hypermarkets should not use these books as a loss-leader,” Kee said. “If this continues, there might be no future for book-sellers.”

Tesco and Carrefour were selling “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at a discount of $11.40 off its recommended retail price of $31.40.

Domestic Trade Minister Shafie Apdal had defended the supermarkets, saying discounts benefit the public.

However, Penguin Books’ managing director for Malaysia and Singapore, Eddy Teo, said the discount rate caught the distributor “completely by surprise” because the supermarkets were offering the books at below cost price.

“We cannot control the prices, but we’re encouraging retailers to be more sensitive toward booksellers,” Teo said.

About one-third of MPH’s 15,000 copies of the book were pre-ordered by customers, Kee said. Popular had some 28,000 copies, with pre-orders reportedly totaling about 6,000. Times has not publicly revealed its figures.

Kee said the chains are selling the book at its recommended price, but added that “as a goodwill gesture,” customers who purchase other items at their stores would receive a 20 percent discount off the book.

More than 10 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide, bringing the total sales for the entire series to more than 335 million.

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