Book industry upbeat as it faces post-Potter world
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New York (Reuters) - The book publishing community is upbeat as it faces life without Harry Potter, along with an immediate future bereft of sure-fire blockbusters.
When "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" hits U.S. shelves at 12:01 a.m./0401 GMT Saturday, it will spell the final chapter of a cultural phenomenon credited with creating millions of young readers and capturing the imaginations of many adults.
But it will also mark the end of a proven cash cow for the book industry.
Even without the record sales expected to be generated by J.K. Rowling's conclusion to her saga about the bespectacled boy wizard's battles with evil, the industry is surprisingly healthy, analysts told Reuters.
"Everybody keeps expecting it to slide off the precipice that the music industry is experiencing, but it never quite happened," said Lorraine Shanley, principal of Market Partners International, a consultant to the publishing industry.
"On the contrary ... there are some signs that growth and energy in book publishing have surprised some people," Shanley said.
According to the annual "Book Industry Trends" survey published last month, U.S. publishers' net revenue grew 3.2 percent, to more than $35 billion, in 2006, a year in which no new Harry Potter book was released.
Excluding the spike in sales generated by the final book in the Harry Potter series, the next 4 years are expected to be a period of steady growth for the book industry.
By 2011, books are expected to generate $42 billion in revenue, the survey said.
"Overall, the book business is stable with modest growth," said Al Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University and a researcher with the Institute for Publishing Research. "It's healthy, even without Potter," Greco said.
Nevertheless, with rampant speculation about Harry Potter possibly being killed off in the 784-page tome, fans are turning out in full force for the final book and are setting new sales records in the process.
Barnes & Noble Inc., the largest U.S. bookseller, said earlier this month that preorders for the seventh and final installment of the series rose to more than 1.2 million, the largest number for preorders of any book in the company's history.
Meanwhile, online retailer Amazon.com said it sold 2 million copies of the book worldwide, easily besting advance order totals for Rowling's 2005 release, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
To date, Rowling has sold more than 325 million copies of the first six books about the young wizard, his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and his battles with the dastardly Lord Voldemort.
The series has also spawned four movies which have amassed a worldwide box office tally around $3.5 billion. The fifth film is in cinemas now.
Scholastic Corp., the U.S. publisher of the series, is planning to release a record-breaking 12 million copies of "Deathly Hallows."
Although the end of the series will leave a void in the marketplace, Jefferies & Co. analyst Tim Allen said sooner or later another will emerge to take its place, although it will likely be on a much smaller scale.
"Maybe you have a slowdown, but it always seems like there's something in the works," Allen said. "Historically, there's always another series."
A more pressing concern for book publishers than a lack of blockbuster titles, is whether or not today's children will replace aging baby boomers as the primary consumers of books when the time comes, Shanley said.
"The question nobody really knows the answer to is, will the generation of 'tweens follow the same demographic shift that their predecessors have followed? ... Or will they do online gaming in their teens and 20s and then migrate to books at some point?"
But with a culture that increasingly favors juicy tidbits about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan over more cerebral pursuits, the answer to that question is a dire one, said Mark Suchomel, president of the Chicago-based Independent Publishers Group.
"It's not necessarily the fact that there are other forms of entertainment ... We're not putting emphasis on intellectual stimulation. We value what we have and how we look."
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