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Wallet-watch Calcutta lags in dash for Potter’s fifth

His magical touch makes Midas’ look like lead. Even before Harry ‘pure-gold’ Potter is back on the shelves, he has broken all kinds of publishing records. But with the clock ticking on the June 21 date for the worldwide launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, wallet-wary Calcutta lags behind in the metro race to grab its share of the fifth title in the J.K. Rowling series.

Harry Potter — all of four books old — is ageing in style. Penguin India, the country distributors for Bloomsbury, the publishers of the book, reports “phenomenal” advance orders, making Order of the Phoenix its “biggest selling book on publication”. Says Thomas Abraham, general manager, marketing, Penguin India: “We have received orders for around 57,000 copies, and by June 21, the number should easily cross 60,000.” This is “twice” that received for the July 2000 hardback release of Goblet of Fire, and is the “largest first order scenario for Penguin India” for a fiction hardback, with the usual numbers hovering around “10,000 to 25,000 at best”.

By year-end, the sales figure for Order of the Phoenix is expected to cross 75,000 copies. Calcutta accounts for only eight per cent of orders so far, with Guwahati, Patna and Dhaka adding another two per cent. The same ratio holds true for the previous books, which have sold 75,000 copies each till now, and the box set of all four books, another 18,000. Though Delhi’s mammoth 39 per cent share of pre-orders includes sales to distributors, there is still a marked mismatch in city sales. “Calcutta is well below the national average of sales — by around three to five per cent — consistent with the market in the east,” adds Abraham.

The special Indian price for the novel, reportedly around 1,000 pages long, is Rs 795, with a paperback likely to hit the market only next year. India is importing the book, which has had an “unprecedented” first print run of 8.5 million copies.

The Calcutta copy count may be low, but interest is running high. Both Landmark and Oxford Bookstore have “pre-sold” over 100 copies each. Landmark, likely to stock around 300 copies, is expecting Order of the Phoenix to out-perform Goblet of Fire’s hardback run. “But the book is expensive and this does affect the Calcutta market,” explains Gautam Jatia, CEO, Landmark, which has sold over 1,000 copies each of the four predecessors. “Sales of the other Potter books and merchandise has gone up already, with the renewed enthusiasm,” he adds. Sales of the first four titles have gone up around 12 to 15 per cent, in anticipation of the fifth, says Penguin.

India Book House (IBH), one of the three main city distributors of the title, has already sold around 3,000 copies each of the four books. “This is a series that keeps on selling, even if it doesn’t move in large quantities initially because of the price,” says Lal Hiranandani of IBH. Though children are still the main buyers, Harry is now 15 and his latest adventures are rumoured to be much darker. But such is the brand’s strength amongst mere Muggles that he needs little hype. Penguin, though, is involved with a few in-store events, children’s promotions and point-of-sales advertising, while Oxford Bookstore is chalking out plans for an event to pitch the book.

A muttered spell, the flick of a wand, the glint in the eye, the first stirring of love… Harry’s enchanted groupies can’t wait for the rise of the Phoenix.

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