Yesterday, at one minute past midnight London time, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince went on sale. The statistics speak for themselves: sales within 24 hours of two million; Amazon.com starting to ship advance sales of 350,000; and Royal Mail laying on 150 extra trucks to carry 500,000 copies to customers shivering with anticipation. And that was just Britain. Worldwide, sales of the book are expected, by breakfast time today, to exceed 10 million. Take that, computer games.
The trigger for this intercontinental rush to embrace the printed word was an appearance, on the stroke of 12, by Joanne Rowling, author and Potter creator. With the commercial acumen that has typified the marketing of Potter, she arrived by limo, watched by thousands of children and their parents, and then manifested herself from behind a secret panel in the city's castle to begin reading. "You get a lot of answers in this book," she said. "I can't wait for everyone to read it."
Neither, it seems could they. As she spoke, 300,000 people were attending midnight bookshop openings in Britain alone. Waterstone's opened 140 stores, and drew crowds hundreds strong at many. Some of the faithful had waited in line for up to 16 hours and, having nearly exhausted themselves with the excitement and the odd Mexican wave, could hardly contain themselves as they rushed tills and claimed their prize.
No sooner were books receipted and bagged than they were being pulled out and the opening lines consumed. "It was nearing midnight and the prime minister was sitting alone in his office." Many said they intended to devour the rest of the 607 pages before the day was out.
"I'm going to read it all at once. I don't think I could stop once I got started," said Katrine Skovgaard, 18, who travelled from Denmark and waited in line for six hours at a central London bookstore.
Launch events were held in Thailand, India, China, Japan, Singapore, across Europe, and in Mexico and the US. There, summer camps had arranged midnight wake-up calls and waived package restrictions in anticipation of hordes of teenagers who could not contain themselves until daylight. One camp in New Hampshire even planned to forklift books to kids.
In Australia, thousands of "Pottermaniacs", some carrying live snakes, besieged bookstores in the outback, in the country's snowfields and along its beaches. And, in Hong Kong, a teenage boy leaned against a wall outside a bookstore and began reading a copy immediately after buying it.
Suzi Feay, The Independent on Sunday's literary editor, was less convinced than hard-core fans about the latest book. "It's wordy, flabby and not very well edited - perhaps a bit less inventive than previous ones," she said. "We could have done with some better gags. One of the products in the Fred and Weasley joke shop is U-No-Poo, which induces constipation. There's a disjunction between the teenage angst and the humour, which seemed to be aimed at much younger children."
As night closed on this extraordinary day, every minute was adding to Rowling's almost absurd success. Since the first book was published in 1997, the series as a whole has sold 265 million copies in 200 countries and 62 languages. The new novel, which has topped the Amazon sales ranking since last December, seems set to be the biggest yet.
WH Smith reported last night that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was selling at the rate of 13 a second at its 390 stores. This broke the previous record of eight books a second, set by ... Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, of course.
A YOUNG FAN WRITES...
There was a typical but unpredictable and dark storyline to this book, which in my opinion is the most intense to date. The Death Eaters (followers of the evil Voldemort) are more openly murdering, blackmailing and bewitching innocent witches. Wizards are destroying the peace in the magical community, leaving Harry and Albus Dumbledore to fight a losing battle. But there is one Death Eater they did not bank on fighting, one that may overcome even Dumbledore himself. What shocked me most was the relationship between Harry's friend Ron Weasley and boring Lavender Brown. You can't help but feel sorry for poor Hermione - a long-time Weasley admirer. Many suspicions and fears are raised, and each page contains a new surprise. It is the most dramatic and tense in the series, and it is unlikely that Potter fans will be disappointed.
Imogen McSmith, aged 13
Harry Potter and... The Philosopher's Stone Published: June 1997 Pages: 224
Weight: 300g What happens? Eleven-year-old Harry Potter enrols at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He discovers that his parents were murdered by the evil Lord Voldemort, and foils an attempt by Voldemort to return to power.
Harry Potter and ... The Chamber of Secrets Published: July 1998 Pages: 256
Weight: 310g What happens? Along with his friends, Harry solves the mystery of The Chamber of Secrets, a hidden cavern containing a basilisk that turnspupils into stone. Again, Voldemort is behind it all.
Harry Potter and ... The Prisoner of Azkaban Published: July 1999 Pages: 317 Weight: 350g What happens? A mass murderer escapes from the wizards' prison, Azkaban. The prisoner, Sirius Black, Harry's godfather, has been framed for the murders. Harry and his friends unmask the real culprit, before helping Sirius to escape.
Harry Potter and ... The Goblet of Fire Published: July 2000 Pages: 640 Weight: 810g What happens? Harry hits puberty and develops a crush on Cho Chang. He is chosen to competein the Triwizard Tournament, but Voldemort lays a trap - and tragedy is just around the corner ...
Harry Potter and ... The Order of the Phoenix Published: June 2003 Pages: 768 Weight: 880g What happens? Voldemort's powers are growing and the Order of The Phoenix is set up to counter them. Harry, now 15, has his Ordinary Wizarding Levels to worry about, as well as his continuing attempts to woo Cho Chang.
Harry Potter and ... The Half-Blood Prince Published: July 2005 Pages: 607
Weight: 730g What happens? Harry is given a potions book. Draco has joined the Death Eaters and Snape reveals he has been working for Voldemort. Snape kills Professor Dumbledore before escaping.
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