Harry Potter and the Order of the Discount

Small stores angry that chains will sell J K Rowling's latest tale at less than half-price
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The Independent Online

Independent book stores are being priced out of what may be the biggest publishing bonanza of all time - the publication of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in J K Rowling's series about the teenage wizard (as played by Daniel Radcliffe).

With big chains like Tesco, Amazon and WH Smith enagaged in a price-cutting war, local bookstores are being frozen out.

The new Harry Potter goes on sale at midnight on Saturday 21 June - publisher Bloomsbury's official campaign begins tomorrow - and is already a bestseller thanks to record-breaking pre-order sales. The 768-page, 38-chapter book is the wordiest by far in the Harry Potter series. Its first print run will stretch to two billion pages and will deliver 2.5million copies to shops and homes around the UK.

But despite a cover price of £16.99, larger companies, including online vendors, are selling it for as little as £7.64.

Independent book stores are furious that they have effectively been priced out of the Harry Potter boom and accuse Tesco and others of deliberately selling it at a loss in order to grab all the market share.

"It's crazy that the entire trade should be throwing money away like this" said Jenny Morris, owner of one of Britain's best-known children's bookshops, the Lion and Unicorn in Richmond, Surrey.

"It's also upsetting in that it's degrading the book itself. If you are treating a new release as a loss-leader, what does that say about the book and the author?"

Ms Morris has ordered 250 copies of The Order of the Phoenix. It will sell in her store for £15, but will come with a £4 book voucher. "The whole discounting thing is getting out of hand," said Ms Morris. "There is more of a threat to independents now, in terms of how much we can carry on and stay in profit."

Kate Agnew, of the Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill, north London, will be selling The Order of the Phoenix at £14.99, but is also offering a 10 per cent voucher and a free "Fighting Fantasy" novel with each purchase.

"You obviously want to do the best you can for your customers, but there's no way we can compete with prices like Tesco's," said Ms Agnew. "We pay more than that for the book ourselves."

It is a situation that has been watched carefully by the Book Sellers Association, the industry's trade body. Sydney Davies, the association's head of trade and industry, was resigned to the trend.

"It's like the old supermarket versus corner-shop debate," Mr Davies said. "The small stores just can't afford to sell books at this kind of discount. The supermarkets, on the other hand, don't really care if they make money or not as long as people come into their shop to buy other things.

"The only people who are ultimately going to make money out of this are the author and the publisher."

The title is available for as little as £7.64 plus delivery from online shop Tesco.com - just 45 per cent of the recommended retail price.

Amazon is selling it for £8.49 and has taken more than a million pre-orders of the book, including 300,000 in the UK.

Blackwells will sell the book at different prices in different parts of the country, depending on "local competition". Customers in Reading will be able to walk into their local branch and buy the title for £8.99, while in Bristol it will be priced at £11.99. Buyers in Manchester and Liverpool are less fortunate - their branches of Blackwells will charge £13.99.

At Ottakar's - the chain that recently bought Hammicks bookshops - prices will also vary across the country, ranging between £9.99 and £11.99.

Worldwide sales have topped 50 million already, with 8.6 million copies in the initial US print run alone. The title is expected to contribute up to six per cent of American publisher Scholastic's annual sales.