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Phoenix flies past peaks

London, June 22: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix became the fastest selling book in history last night after selling at the rate of more than 500 copies a minute during the first hour of its release in Britain alone.

Sales shot up throughout the day. Gary Kibble, W H Smith’s book director, said copies were “flying out of the stores at the rate of more than eight a second” yesterday, or 28,800 books an hour nationwide. The novel is expected to be 10 times more popular than the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which itself broke all records.

The extraordinary sales of the fifth instalment in the series, released at one minute past midnight yesterday, are likely to surpass the expectations of the publishers, Bloomsbury, and the author, J.K. Rowling.

Book retailers including Waterstone’s, Books Etc and Ottakar’s reported sales of about 300 books an hour: in Waterstone’s in Piccadilly, London, 1,000 books priced at £16.99 were sold within two-and-a-half hours of opening, and sales maintained a steady pace of 500 an hour. In all, 97 bookshops opened at midnight, with 25 Sainsbury’s stores also opening to sell the book. A spokesperson for Asda said: “We are selling 20,000 an hour. That is 120,000 in total so far. We anticipated it was going to be big but this is bigger than any of our expectations.”

Amazon, the online retailer, said the book had broken internet sales records, with more than 1.3 million sold. The Harry Potter phenomenon has spread across the globe, sparking a worldwide shopping frenzy with bookshops struggling to cope with the demand.

In Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, The Order of the Phoenix went on sale in the early hours yesterday to coincide with the book’s launch in London. Bleary-eyed Potter fans camped out all night to be first in the queue. Bookshops in Paris, Brussels, Bucharest and Rio de Janeiro have started selling the book though it has not yet been published in their native languages.

In New York, the president of the public library donned white gloves to accept a signed first edition delivered by armoured car. In the time-honoured American tradition, the US edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 100 pages longer than the British edition to accommodate more illustrations and larger line-spacing.

In New Zealand, Helen Clark, the Prime Minister, joined a group of children trying to set a new record for reading aloud with a marathon 27-hour Potter session.

In Sydney, Australia, 800 passengers boarded a 14-carriage Hogwarts Express steam train at the Central Railway Station, testing their Potter knowledge on the way with a Hogwarts Exam quiz.

Bookshops across Britain also held Harry Potter theme nights. In Edinburgh, Rowling drew gasps from the crowd as she turned up unexpectedly to sign copies in her local branch of Waterstone's.

A group of primary school children had been told that a member of staff would give them a reading and were told to count down the last 20 seconds before midnight: to their surprise and delight, however, the author appeared with a wooden chest full of copies of the book.

Rowling explained that she had hoped to make a surprise appearance when the previous instalment of the Potter adventures appeared in bookshops but had been unable to do so.

"When Goblet of Fire was published I was desperate to go into a bookshop at midnight and see children's reactions, so this time I am really pleased I could," she said. "Much of the pleasure of being published for me is meeting the children who are reading the books."

One pupil, Sidra, aged nine, said: "I shook her hand - I'm never going to wash it." At Waterstone's in Piccadilly, Europe's largest bookshop, children milled about in wizard hats and T-shirts emblazoned with "Muggle" across the back, while entertainers including Sting and Dame Judi Dench attended a private party.

W H Smith recreated the gateway to Platform 9.75 - where Harry Potter catches the train to Hogwarts school by running through a wall - outside its store at King's Cross station in London.

The worldwide frenzy surrounding Harry Potter - whose previous adventures have sold close to 200 million copies and been translated into 55 languages - is expected to net Ms Rowling £30 million from sales of the latest book.

"It would be an understatement to say that we are expecting to sell a lot of books," said a spokesman for Bloomsbury publishing. "At the moment, it's too early to put an exact figure on it."

For 12-year-old Freddie Dunbar, however, the facts and figures surrounding this global marketing phenomenon were relatively unimportant. He queued for hours on Friday night to buy a copy in Waterstone's, on Piccadilly.

"I think it's going to have a really good plot," he said. "I think Dumbledore is going to die and I think Malfoy and Hermione will kiss. I don't really mind what happens, though, because I know I'm just going to enjoy it. It's been a long wait, but I think it will be worth it."

One Barnes & Noble bookstore in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, had a miniature Hogwarts Castle, indoor Quidditch match and a slug count.

The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, Ohio, converted the Main Street into the book's Diagon Alley. About 3,000 people strolled through the area, sipping pumpkin juice, Muggles Mocha Smoothies and Moaning Myrtle Muffins.

At the Happy Bookseller in Forest Acres, South Carolina, book buyers were sorted into one of the four Hogwarts dormitories as they entered the store and were greeted by employees dressed as Hogwarts students.

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