Harry Potter set to rewrite history

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At the crack of dawn on Saturday, the moment the clock strikes 4.30 in India, the midnight hour in the UK, history will be made when the sale of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince starts all over the world.

The Indian publishing industry of course has seen nothing like it. With 130,000 pre-sold copies, the book is poised to become not only a contemporary bestseller — surpassing Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, all of which sold about 100,000-120,000, and President Kalam’s Ignited Minds (about 50,000) — but also an all-time one, beating the lure of Lolita and the mush of Love Story and Dr Zhivago.

“Our expectation is it will hit 200,000 by the end of this year, an astonishing figure which leaves all other books far behind,” said P M Sukumar, senior vice-president (sales and marketing), Penguin Books India, which is publishing the book, priced at Rs 895, in the country. The last Potter book, the Order of the Phoenix, had attracted a pre-sale of about 60,000.

Given the secrecy around the latest book (a child, who had been accidentally sold the book in the UK, reportedly returned it unread to express solidarity with the other Pottermaniacs), the entire lot of 130,000 will be delivered tomorrow morning at the same time at bookstores in 50 cities in the country.

Safexpress, the logistics company, which has the exclusive rights to the deliveries, will have about 125 vehicles and over 200 men on the road starting at 2 in the morning.

Interestingly, even as the the pre-sold pile, which arrived in India nine days ago, is being loaded onto the vehicles, the second lot of 20,000 has already landed at the Delhi airport. But, the mania is expected to subside after three days.

Typically, those keen on the Potter books either go in for advance bookings or buy it in the first three days after which the sales dip sharply. That is also the time when piracy will kick in.

“Piracy starts very quickly these days. With the new technology, a whole lot of copies can be (illegally) printed in just 24 hours,” said Chiman Shah, marketing manager with India Book House, a major distributor.

If only the publishers could apply the imperious curse, or at least a hex, on the pirates!