Stores Start Potter Price War

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince
As fans desperate to read the latest adventures of schoolboy wizard Harry Potter place orders for the new book due out Saturday, bookshops and other sellers are practicing some dark arts to ensure a share of the profits.

The impending release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," J.K. Rowling's penultimate installment in the Potter chronicles, has sparked a massive price war as retailers across the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent in the U.S. and elsewhere, try to gain crucial early market share.

While bookstores are largely relying on huge late-night launch parties, complete with sorting hat competitions offering iPods and signed books as prizes ahead of the midnight release, supermarkets and online retailers are trying to cast their own spell.

Asda, the British supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and its rival Tesco PLC, the country's No. 1 supermarket chain, are both offering the book for $15.78, a 47 percent reduction on the recommended retail price of $29.92., which has set up a secure, 200,000 square foot warehouse to pack the books, is offering a similar price of $15.83.

Retailers in the United States reported competitive prices, but no serious undercutting. and Barnes & were both selling it for $17.99, 40 percent off the list price of $29.99, and Barnes & Noble was offering it at $16.19 for people in its membership program.

Wal-Mart is offering the book for $16.66 and discount warehouse club Costco put a $15.99 price tag on the book.

There is a danger that cutting prices too far could erode profits entirely. British publisher Bloomsbury has declined to disclose how much it charges retailers for each copy, but analysts suggest it would be about 55 percent of the recommended sale price.

Despite the risk of undercutting, grabbing a significant share of the sales of the new books is nothing to be sneezed at. Bloomsbury has declined to reveal how many editions are in the first print run, but retailers put projections at around 2 million to 2.5 million, given the 10.8 million being printed by U.S. publisher Scholastic.