Saturday, July 7, 2007

Harry Potter 7: wizard of a loss leader

Rebecca Wigod
Vancouver Sun
Saturday, July 07, 2007

The sticker price on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is $45, but price-conscious Canadians won't pay that much. The last novel in J.K. Rowling's kidult fantasy series -- to be released two weeks from today -- can be ordered from for $22.50, for $24.30 through Chapters/Indigo or for $25.99 from Costco.

That kind of deep discounting has upset some smaller booksellers around the world. A report out of Australia quoted Bill Concannon, CEO of Mary Ryan's bookstores, as saying: "Bottom-line profit on the book will be zero .... we're sacrificing our margin on the book to keep our customers happy."

And Tim Robinson, manager of the Muswell Hill Bookshop in north London, England, has been quoted as saying: "The price war is ludicrous because we could all be making money on it."

Here in Canada, booksellers are inclined to take the bad with the good. Steve Budnarchuk, co-owner of Audreys Books in Edmonton and a past president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, acknowledges that "we're not going make a lot of money on this, if any, after we pay all our advertising costs and that sort of thing." But he believes that "folks who grumble on the lost margin on this are missing the point.

"If we don't make any money on it, well, that's too bad," he says, "but it's not the first or the last time that's happened in the book business.

"It's incumbent on us to connect with the positives in this as much as possible, to keep our customers as happy with the whole process [of buying Deathly Hallows] as we can and coming back to us, looking for other suggestions.

"I'm just delighted there has been such a strong interest in a series of books that it has got a lot of people turned on to books again."

Customers of Mosaic Books in Kelowna are pre-ordering Deathly Hallows for 30 per cent off. "We do take a little bit of a loss," says staffer Carley Bortolin, "but it's giving [thanks] to our customers who bought the six previous books with us and continue to shop at our store."

Many other booksellers are treating it as a loss leader, too, recognizing, as Bortolin puts it, that "nobody's going to buy it for $45 when they can get it for less."

Budnarchuk points out that small stores don't have to match the deepest discounters. Instead, they can combine reduced prices with Harry Potter parties or other value-added efforts to keep customers loyal.
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A school in Kindersley, Sask., has removed Trouble on Tarragon Island, by Victoria's Nikki Tate, from its library because of a reference to the "saggy breasts" of the main character's grandmother, who poses semi-nude for an activist calendar. The librarian and the principal feel it could prompt readers to tease or harass female students. Tate is outraged. She says the book isn't "racy or inappropriate in any way. You can't just say, 'Doesn't matter; small town.' It does matter when this kind of thing happens."
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Stephen King's alter ego, Richard Bachman, died of "pseudonym cancer" long ago, but an early manuscript of his has just been published as Blaze. Simon & Schuster calls it "one of the best 'lost' novels ever to resurface," a story on a par with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
© The Vancouver Sun 2007