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Midnight is the new witching, and wizarding, hour

Seventh Harry Potter book on sale at Armchair Books on Friday night

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In the entire history of publishing there has never been a launch as widely anticipated, or a book as pre-ordered, as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — the seventh and final book in a popular series by author J.K. Rowling. The latest book has officially smashed all records for pre-orders, with millions of copies sold before the July 21 release date.

Whistler’s Armchair Books is a modest part of that success, and at press time had sold or reserved some 230 copies of the book. Their first shipment will include roughly 550 books, which owner Dan Ellis expects to sell out.

Like many stores, Armchair is once again hosting a special midnight opening to let Potter fans get their hands on the book as early as possible, with doors opening at midnight on Friday, July 20.

If past years are any indication, a lot of children will be yawning on Saturday morning as they stay up to buy the book and read the first few chapters. For the kids who won’t sleep until they get into the story, the Armchair Books midnight sale will once again feature a reading by Alix Nicoll. Nicoll will read the first chapter once again, as she has done for the past two Harry Potter books, and Ellis will serve cake, coffee and juice.

It’s a rare kind of book that can attract this kind of devotion, and Ellis says he is sorry that this is the last book of the series.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said. “A lot of the kids have really grown up with Harry Potter.”

In past years the line has started in the hallway outside the store around 9 p.m., and filled the hall by the time the door opened at midnight. With the number of preorders and interest in the book, Ellis is expecting the line to stretch out the door on Friday night. All people who made pre-orders will be guaranteed books, and the remainder will be available at the register on a first-come, first-served basis.

Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the final book in the series, fans have started a petition to get J.K. Rowling to keep writing them — providing that the lead character is not killed off, as many suspect and the author herself has hinted.

The newest book will pick up where the seventh book left off — Hogwart’s headmaster Albus Dumbledore is murdered by Severus Snape at the command of Lord Voldemort, but not before Dumbledore and Potter could discover the secret of Lord Voldemort’s immortality. Potter also discovers near the end of the book that someone else with the initials R.A.B. was (or still is?) after Lord Voldemort, and has discovered the dark wizard’s secret.

Wile the book will no doubt break records, the release has not been without its controversies. The publishers have spent close to $20 million on security to prevent details of the book from being leaked, but a copy has appeared on the Internet. In response, Raincoast Books, the Canadian publisher, has put out a plea to anyone who has read the book online not to ruin the surprise ending for others.

There is also some concern in the book publishing and book selling industry regarding the huge discounts that larger box stores and online chains are offering. Many stores are using Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a “loss-leader”, losing money on every sale in the belief that people will stay in the store to shop for other items or return to the website when making future purchases. Some retailers are offering up to 60 per cent off the cover price, which is $45 in Canada.

Few independent bookstores — already struggling to compete with larger chains — can offer the same kind of discount.

For his part, Ellis is offering a little over 10 per cent off to his customers, selling copies at $39.95. It’s as low as he can go.

“I can’t blame people if they can get the book for 50 per cent off, for some people it means a lot to save that kind of money,” said Ellis. “We’re probably losing some people like that, but in the end I think we’ll sell more of this book than we did the last book.

“All we can do is try to treat our customers right and hope they keep coming back. You do what you can for customers, and I think we’ve built a lot of loyalty, people who are pleased with the way we approach the business.”

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