Rowling's latest: reduced from £1.95m to £6.99

A new work previously available only at auction goes on sale in the shops today

Last time a copy of J K Rowling's Harry Potter spin-off, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, was sold publicly, it went for £1.95m at a Sotheby's auction. As one of only seven handwritten copies and the only one available for purchase, it became the most expensive modern literary manuscript ever sold.

But from today, Harry Potter fans will be able to get their hands on a copy for the slightly less eye-watering price of £6.99. Shops opened their doors at midnight last night to allow fans to purchase the supposed final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise.

Unlike the previous seven books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard does not follow the adventures of Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron. Instead it is a collection of fairy tales bequeathed to Hermione in the final book which helped the trio defeat Lord Voldemort.

A charity Rowling co-founded will receive the proceeds from sales after distribution costs have been recouped.

The collection has been given a comparatively low-key launch compared to other Harry Potter releases, but it is still expected to be an international best-seller with a global print run of 7.5 million copies. The Royal National Institute for Blind People is also making Braille and audio copies.

Rowling will attend a small book launch this afternoon in Edinburgh, where she lives, and will read extracts to children. She wrote the collection shortly after completing her last Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and described it as a way of saying goodbye to the series that made her the world's richest living author.

One of the five tales, "The Tale of the Three Brothers", was recounted in full inside the Deathly Hallows but fans have not seen the others before.

Rowling never intended to release the book but decided to do so after fans voiced their disappointment that they would never get to read it.

After finishing the Deathly Hallows, she handwrote seven copies of Beedle the Bard, which were bound in leather and encrusted with jewels. She gave six to friends who had helped her realise the Harry Potter phenomenon and the seventh to her charity, the Children's High Level Group which helps institutionalised children in eastern Europe. Auctioneers hoped that copy would fetch £50,000 but the retailer Amazon.com bought it for £1.95m.

On the inside sleeve of the auctioned copy, Rowling wrote: "The Tales of Beedle the Bard is really a distillation of the themes found in the Harry Potter books, and writing it has been the most wonderful way to say goodbye to a world I loved and lived for 17 years."

Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in the 1990s. She struggled to find a publisher but Bloomsbury finally agreed to release it, and it became Bloomsbury's most successful series, selling 400 million copies worldwide.

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