Harry Potter and the Balanced Books

I was working on an article today on the anticipated release date of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and while I was speculating on various dates, I recalled an article I read last year about the publishing industry’s relationship with Harry Potter. Specifically, it was talking about bookstores and distributors, both of whom stand to gain a great deal of money from the sales of the next book.

According to an article I read in The Daily Telegraph, some independent bookstores are questioning whether or not they want to carry the book at all, claiming that they cannot sell the book as cheaply as major retailers like Amazon can. The contents of the article were somewhat misconstrued: the slashed prices that major retailers can afford are not due to a steep wholesale discount, but due to the volume of sales. These stores can afford to take a minor cut on the Harry Potters because they will make up for it with profit from other books, and because, yes, the more books you order, the more of a discount you get. It’s not that the discount is just being extended to big box stores, it’s that only the big box stores need to order the books in the thousands.

Now, I used to work for an independent bookstore, so I am well aware of the misconception that books are priced high at independents because they hate the world. In fact, the prices are higher because independents have to pay the overhead costs for the store, and content with much more expensive books from publishers and distributors. For consumers, the question is whether you want cheap books overnighted to your door with indifferent service, or whether you want great service, book recommendations, and the atmosphere of a real bookstore. Not all independents have nice staff, alas, but most should. And I prefer going into a bookstore, talking to real people, having my problems dealt with by people who care about me. I also prefer independents because I think they stock better books and treat their staff better, and because I would rather shop local. I’ll shop at Cody’s before I’ll shop and Barnes and Noble before I’ll shop at Amazon.

All this aside, the article I was actually thinking of was talking about how many small bookstores are actually relying on the Harry Potter series to pull their books into the black. Sales are so depressed for independents that many are facing closure as it is: it is a little bit alarming to think that they are waiting for and relying on one book alone to improve their economic situation. The book is guaranteed to be a runaway success and will probably sell in the millions of copies on the first day it’s out, to be sure. But to bargain on it to fix your economic troubles…is really sad.

Of course, this is one place where independents have a big jump on the box stores, because most of them have midnight parties for the Harry Potter books. Well attended parties, at that, because people are longing to get their hands on them. Amazon might be able to guarantee delivery on the day of, but that will still be hours after the books are available at the independent bookstore down the street. Sure, they might be more expensive, but I think most readers, even those who don’t care about the survival of independent stores, will pay cover price to read it at midnight instead of noon when the postman comes.

Will Harry Potter balance the books? Only time will tell, but I find it hard to believe that stores could be relying on one single book for the answer to their prayers. After all, this is it. The end. No more…when means that if that article was true, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last ace in the hole for independents.

[independent bookstores]
[Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]