Latest Harry Potter casts a spell of hype

THIS IS the tale of Harry Potter and a marketing wheeze. Today will see hordes of children rushing from school to buy the latest book in the adventures of the Nineties' most popular children's fiction hero.

Master Potter, increasingly a cult figure among adults too, has his third outing with the publication of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J K Rowling.

The publisher, Bloomsbury, has printed 270,000 copies in hardback, more than double its biggest initial print-run of any book hitherto; and stores are preparing for queues of expectant young fans.

Bloomsbury Children's Books has already taken the precaution of upping the Potter print run several times in an effort to cope with demand. There have now been seven print runs before it is even released. Such is the interest that copies are not to be sold before 3.45pm - after the school bell - to ensure Potter devotees are not tempted to play truant.

But there is more than a hint of suspicion that concern for the national curriculum is not the publisher's only motivation. Combined with "happy- hour" discounts after 3.45pm in many bookshops, the no-truancy idea has added to the marketing hype. Reviewers who received early copies had to sign legal agreements that they would not show the book to anyone else.

Rosamund de la Hey of Bloomsbury said: "We have already sold 200,000 copies to booksellers. "Many of the bookshops have massive lists full of pre-orders from customers. I would be pretty surprised if it wasn't a huge seller, partly because we have the assurance of lists and lists of people who have already ordered it.

"It's quite amazing. We've had phone calls from bookshops since February asking about ordering the new book. At the bookshop in Harrods they have pre-sold about 1,000 copies already," she added.

Potter is an orphan whose magical powers flourish when he goes to the wizard school, Hogwarts.The author, J K Rowling, famously wrote the first of the series in an Edinburgh cafe because it was warmer than her home. She can now afford the highest quality central heating.

The first two books have notched up combined sales of 750,000 to 800,000 copies. Rowling, who has been compared to J R R Tolkien, has also topped the New York Times bestseller list, and film rights to the character have been bought for a seven-figure sum.

The books have proved so popular with adults that they have also been published with a different jacket to avoid potential purchasers feeling uncomfortable being seen in public with a children's story.

A paperback edition of the new yarn is not expected until next year.

Thursday Book,

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