Harry Potter Expectations Overblown

Jun 12, 2003
Rick Moss

By Rick Moss

Although pre-orders of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” have topped
a million on Amazon.com, signs are that this soon to be released J.K. Rowling
installment may not live up to expectations. A recent survey conducted by J.P.
Morgan polled sixth and seventh grade children and their parents. About 91 percent
said they had previously purchased earlier Harry Potter books, but 16 percent
do not intend to buy the upcoming release.

This could be a major disappointment for book retailers who have been conditioned
to expect huge boosts in foot traffic and unit volume when each new release
comes about. According to J.P. Morgan’s analysts, retailers will need to make
use of heavy discounting and promotions to pull it off this time. They point
out that sales to date have been driven by deals, at times 40 percent off the
list price of $29.99.

The book’s publisher, Scholastic, has made a massive initial print-run, of
which an unprecedented 8.5 million copies are reserved for the United States
alone. The new book is close to 900 pages long, with over 255,000 words filling
38 chapters. Its immediate predecessor, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
ran 752 pages.

Moderator’s Comment: Is it wise for the beleaguered
publishing and bookseller industry to bank so heavily on “young Mr. Potter”?

It seems to me that publishers would do well to spend
more time and money developing new talent, rather than risking it all with Hollywood-style
blockbusters. J.K. Rowling is a phenomenon…plain and simple…the likes
of which the industry may never see again. What happens when this juggernaut
loses steam? Young authors, meanwhile, aren’t given access to opportunities
the way they once were. I’d say…funnel those funds to new writers and small
publishers. Build for the future.

And for Scholastic, I’ll pass on a word of advice that
I’ve learned from my wise business partner: “Under-promise; over-deliver.” [Rick
Moss – Moderator

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