Friday, July 06, 2007

`Harry Potter' Cuts Price, Robert Novak Cuts Throats: Book Buzz

`Harry Potter' Cuts Price, Robert Novak Cuts Throats: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- With J.K. Rowling's ``Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' the seventh and final book in the series, set for a July 21 release, Scholastic, its American publisher, is printing 12 million copies. Yet what looks to be a virtually guaranteed bonanza won't necessarily trickle down to booksellers. is offering the book at $17.99 -- a 48.6 percent discount off the cover price of $34.99 -- and has reported almost 1.6 million pre-orders worldwide. With the publisher's discount to Amazon unlikely to go much beyond 50 percent, that leaves a slim profit, though Amazon might still make a little extra on shipping.

Big-box wholesalers like Costco and Sam's Club, as well as regional grocery and drugstore chains, have in the past offered even lower prices, using the book as a loss leader to draw in customers. Barnes & Noble, Borders and other chain bookstores have typically discounted the book by 40 percent.

Many independent booksellers, less willing to go the discount route, are competing by adding value to the purchase with ``Harry Potter''-themed launch parties and other programs. At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., Publishers Weekly magazine's 2007 Bookseller of the Year, ``Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'' will sell for the full $34.99, with seven of those dollars going to a local charity of the buyer's choice.

``We've done the same in past years,'' says Faith Hochhalter, the store's children's-book buyer. ``With `Harry Potter,' our priority is as much community development as it is selling books.''

New Film, Too

The booksellers also have to sign a novella-length agreement for the privilege of selling the book.

Among its draconian provisions: They must keep the novel under lock and key prior to the midnight launch, and they may not use trademarked ``Harry Potter'' names to promote it outside the store. (No Diagon Alleys in the parking lot.)

The restrictions stem from Rowling's contract with Warner Bros., which produces the ``Harry Potter'' films and doesn't want any confusion between the new book and its ``Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' which opens July 11.

Most booksellers I spoke to were happy to sign Scholastic's agreement and intend to comply -- though they worry that the rules are so complex they might break one without knowing it. (Scholastic, $34.99, 12 million first printing.)

Friedman 3.0

There are already some 2.5 million hardcover copies of Thomas Friedman's 2005 ``The World Is Flat'' in print. The paperback version, which arrives in stores on July 24, represents the book's third revision.

Will two new chapters and updated statistics entice customers into buying yet another copy?

``This is a book that has `tipped' and will continue to sell whether pages are added or not,'' says Todd Sattersten, vice-president of the business bookstore 800-CEO-READ, which has sold 700 copies of the book so far.

Barbara Cave Henricks, a consultant who has worked with Jack Welch and other executives on their books, points out that a paperback edition ``is also more attractive for universities, which prefer to assign paperbacks for supplemental reading.'' Yet she questions Friedman's decision to re-revise rather than write a new book.

``When you have a big hit, publishers want you to follow it up as soon as possible to capitalize on existing fans,'' she says. ``A writer like Friedman might get paid five figures for a revision but would get a multimillion-dollar deal for a new book. Of course, with three Pulitzer Prizes to his name, Friedman is the exception to the rule. He can probably sell just about anything he wants." (Picador, $16, 500,000 first printing.)

Novak's Blade

Given Robert Novak's long career in Washington, surely he wants to be remembered for more than outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

His memoir ``The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington'' should help. Said to have come in at 1,400 pages, it's half that now.

The book is embargoed -- press copies aren't available -- but Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, author of ``Crunchy Cons,'' has the same publisher and got an early peek. He told me he's been savoring the infighting the book might engender.

``There are some pretty spicy parts in which he unloads on conservative pundits, which will have people on the right talking'' he says. ``He's particularly hard on Kate O'Beirne for what he believes is her failure to defend him when National Review attacked him unfairly. One gets the opinion that their friendship ended over that.''

Among Novak's other targets are National Review's David Frum and MSNBC's Tucker Carlson. (Crown Forum, $29.95, 100,000 first printing.)

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)