Harry Potter Hits No. 1 - Already

Illustration of Harry Potter from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" book, 12-11-2000
AP Photo/Scholastic Inc.
The latest installment in the Harry Potter series won't hit stores for more than six months but it has already topped several booksellers' most wanted lists and is racking up thousands of advance orders, retailers said Wednesday.

Less than 24 hours after publishers announced a July 16 release date for "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" — British author J.K. Rowling's sixth novel set in the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — it had shot to No. 1 on online bookseller Amazon.co.uk's Hot 100 book list.

By Tuesday afternoon, it was also No. 1 on the Amazon.com U.S. site and the Barnes & Noble Web site.

The list, calculated from all orders placed by customers on the retailer's Internet site, put the latest chapter in the boy wizard fantasy series ahead of best sellers such as "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Five People You Meet In Heaven."

Amazon could not say exactly how many pre-orders it had gotten, but the company said its Web site had been deluged after it began taking orders for the novel late Tuesday.

"The fact that the book has already hit No. 1 in our Hot 100 books chart shows how incredibly excited customers are about the sixth Harry Potter," Amazon.co.uk managing director Robin Terrell said.

Author J.K. Rowling only said she had finished writing the book this week.

"I have a great feeling of release in being able to talk freely about the fact the book is finished; it has been a weighty secret to carry around," she posted Wednesday on her Web site.

Amazon said it took 420,000 pre-orders for the fifth in the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," released in the summer of 2003, making it the largest ever pre-order item. The company was expecting a similar response for the latest installment.

Jo Marino, a spokeswoman for Waterstones bookstore chain in Britain, said customers had started calling its stores to place orders for the book immediately after publishers announced the release date Tuesday.

"There is so much demand people want to make sure they get their copy," Marino said.

She predicted plenty of readers would also wait until books hit the stores at 12:01 a.m. on July 16 to join in-store parties and pick up their copy in person.

"Without a doubt, I think we will be seeing queues around the block like we have for the previous books," she said. "People want to come down and be part of it."

She said when the last Potter book went on sale, Waterstones' central London store started selling it just after midnight and had sold 2,000 copies within two hours.

"We think we will have the same sort of response," Marino said.

The publishers have said the new book takes up the story of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts when the powers of the villain Voldemort and his followers are increasing day by day.

A seventh and final novel will follow at a date yet to be announced.