In a rare instance of the printed word grabbing the spotlight over movies and videogames, youthful buyers snapped up 8.3 million copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in its first 24 hours of release in the U.S. this weekend.
Tally for the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s mega-selling series tops the previous record for the first day of a book’s release, which belonged to Potter as well: The series’ sixth installment, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” sold nearly 7 million copies in its first 24 hours when it bowed in July 2005, according to U.S. publisher Scholastic.
While the book and movie businesses are structured very differently, dollars the franchise generated domestically this weekend for its creator and distributor surpass what a studio might take in for a hit tentpole. Publishers typically sell books to wholesalers and retailers for a 40%-45% discount off the retail price, which means the Saturday sales alone could generate more than $150 million in receipts for Scholastic and Rowling.
Release of the final book in the Potter franchise also took on the big-event feel of such global film releases as pics in the “Star Wars” or “Spider-Man” franchises (or, for that matter, a new Harry Potter pic).
In Gotham, Barnes & Noble’s flagship Union Square store saw thousands line up, many in costume, for the midnight release of the new book. Actor Jim Dale, who reads the audiobook, also turned up.
But unlike the movie biz, where a studio shoulders the bulk of the marketing cost, with a Potter novel it’s generally the retailers and not the distributor that spends the marketing bucks.
A total of 12 million copies of “Hallows” have been printed by Scholastic. About 1.2 million were sold Saturday throughout the Borders chain, while Amazon.com reported 2.2 million orders ahead of Friday’s debut. Barnes & Noble, whose outlets have historically accounted for as much as 20% of opening-weekend Potter sales, will release numbers Monday.
Scholastic compared the weekend release to another iconic British invasion. “The excitement, anticipation, and just plain hysteria that came over the entire country this weekend was a bit like the Beatles’ first visit to the U.S.,” said Scholastic prexy Lisa Holton.
As much as half of all sales come from Wal-Mart, Costco, supermarkets and other so-called non-traditional retailers, often at sharply discounted prices. So despite being one of the most popular franchises in publishing history — estimates put total sales for the franchise at more than 300 million copies globally — many retailers do not see much, if any, profit on the release of a new Potter tome.
The resale market — in which copies are resold by readers to buyers who sat out the weekend — is also expected to cut into potential sales of new copies.
For the sixth Potter installment, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” about 14 million copies were printed, with reports that the publisher was left with 1 million or 2 million copies after most sales had been rung up.
Internationally, sales of “Deathly Hallows” also appeared to bust records. One book chain in the U.K. reported selling 15 copies every second of the title, released by Bloomsbury, while supermarket chain Asda sold 250,000 copies between midnight and 9 a.m. Saturday.
Reviewers and fans generally hailed J.K. Rowling’s ending. And contrary to publishers’ fears, leaks of the book via sites like DeepDiscount.com and Ebay last week did not ding sales. In fact, in some cases it might have helped, as buyers reported buying copies faster and earlier to avoid hearing about the ending.
It was unclear how much the massive sales of Potter books this weekend affected box office for Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in theater. Film dropped off of 58% — not unexpected considering the film’s robust opening numbers.
Warners said part of the dip could have been because of the book, which consumed the attention of Potter fans who otherwise might have gone to see the movie — be it for the first time or for a repeat viewing.
Warners had set the release date for “Phoenix” long before the publication date of “Hallows” was nailed down. Previously, only one Potter book and film have been released in the same year, and that was four months apart.
For scheduling purposes, Warners had to go with “Phoenix” in thesummer, vs. November, when the studio usually releases its Potter pics.
The only other Potter film to be released in the summer was “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which bowed June 4, 2004. There was no book that year.
Author Rowling has said she is not yet certain about her post-Potter writing plans, though any continuation of the Potter brand is considered very remote.
(Sam Thielman contributed to this story.)