LONDON (Reuters) - Cash tills around the world rang to the tune of Harry Potter over the weekend and the seventh and final book in the boy wizard series looked on course to become the fastest selling book ever.
Author J.K. Rowling already boasts the record with the sixth installment, and early sales figures from British and American retailers suggest “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will eclipse it.
The Asda supermarket chain has been selling the hardback at a heavy loss, charging five pounds ($10) for the 608-page volume, a fraction of the recommended retail price of 17.99 pounds.
The heavy discount paid off in terms of volume, with the store selling 97 percent of its 500,000 copies within about 36 hours of the book’s release. More copies have been ordered.
“The nation really has gone Potter potty,” said spokesman Ed Watson, who added that “Deathly Hallows” sold twice as quickly as “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” published in 2005.
A spokeswoman at Bloomsbury, Potter’s British publisher, was quoted by the Observer newspaper as saying British sales of the final installment could reach three million copies in the first 24 hours, up from two million with “Half-Blood Prince.”
Borders Group Inc. BGP.N, the second-largest U.S. bookseller, said it sold about 1.2 million copies in the first day at its 1,200 Borders and Waldenbooks stores globally compared to 850,000 copies of the sixth Potter book in its first day.
“This is the highest single-day sales of any title ever in Borders history,” the retailer said in a statement, adding that about 800,000 Potter fans attended celebrations in its U.S. stories in the countdown to the book’s release, many in costumes.
Waterstone’s bookstores sold 100,000 Potter books in two hours, while rival WH Smith sold 15 books every second across Britain on the first night of its release, topping the record set by the previous Potter installment of 13 per second.
Online retailer Amazon.com received 2.2 million pre-orders for “Deathly Hallows,” up 47 percent on book six.
U.S. publisher Scholastic has yet to release its statistics. In 2005, it sold 6.9 million copies of “Half-Blood Prince” in the first 24 hours.
Rowling, the world’s first billion-dollar writer, kicked off the hype surrounding “Deathly Hallows” by announcing last year that two characters would be killed and one reprieved.
To protect its lucrative secrets, publishers spent millions of dollars on imposing a tight embargo on the final volume, which went on sale worldwide at 2301 GMT on Friday.
But photographs of the entire U.S. edition of the book started to appear on the Internet early last week, and the New York Times and Baltimore Sun ran reviews early Thursday having obtained hard copies prior to publication.
Most fans said they would read the story from start to finish, but a handful could not resist cheating.
“I couldn’t stop myself from finding out the end first,” said Vineet Sharma in Mumbai.
For the release of “Deathly Hallows,” thousands of people dressed as witches, wizards and Hogwarts heroes and queued outside book stores in major cities to snap up early copies.
“I doubt a lost novel by Shakespeare with a cover painted by Michelangelo could generate this much excitement,” novelist Tibor Fischer wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Early reviews of “Deathly Hallows” have been glowing, and die-hard Potter followers can take comfort from the fact that Harry Potter has not gone away just yet.
There are two Hollywood adaptations to go, with the final movie scheduled for release in 2010.
Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith in New York