By Fouzia van der Fort
Villain Lord Voldemort would be proud - a Harry Potter price war has erupted ahead of the release of the sixth instalment of the book.
A Cape Town chain store has undercut bookstores across the country by lopping R100 off the price of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
But bookstores do not appear to be too concerned, as many have organised advance-order campaigns to make sure customers buy the sixth book on the boy wizard.
Pick 'n Pay Hypermarket is selling the book at R137,47 - the recommended price is R249,95 - but a spokesperson wouldn't divulge their advance sale orders. "We have pre-sold a lot of books," was all that David Smith, senior buyer for Hypermarkets, would say.
Anika Ebrahim, senior publicist for Jonathan Ball, South African distributors for Bloomsbury, said: "We can't dictate what retailers sell it for, but the recommended retail price is R249,95 for the adult and children's edition."
Ebrahim said it was not unusual for books to be sold at low prices, which would be compensated for by other goods customers might buy from a store. "It is known as a loss leader; no profit is made from the book," said Ebrahim.
Batya Green-Bricker, marketing manager of Exclusive Books, said the store had pre-sold more than 7 000 copies across South Africa and 2 800 in the Western Cape. They are selling the book at R229.
Green-Bricker said: "We are not really concerned about it (the rivalry) as we have long-standing relationships with our customers."
Wordsworth Books has also cut its prices. Manager Andrew Marjoribanks said "it was not unusual" as books were sold at competitive rates all the time.
He said an added bonus to customers was an invitation to the launch parties at branches. "Customers who ordered a book received personal invitations, but the party is open to all, Potter lover or not."
The book takes up the story of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with villain Lord Voldemort growing ever stronger. It will reveal the identity of the Half-Blooded Prince, which the author JK Rowling has disclosed is neither Harry nor Voldemort.
Rowling has also previously revealed that a character will be killed in the sixth book, but has given no hint of who it will be.
Pick 'n Pay, Exclusive Books and Wordsworth Books will open at 1am on Saturday to face the Potter rush, but will close their doors an hour later. Store managers said that at the last Potter book release, the crowd thinned after the first hour.
Potter snacks, entertainment and decorations will be available at all open Exclusive Books branches until 2am on Saturday morning. The biggest Exclusive Potter fancy dress party will be held at the Cavendish Square branch, starting at 10.30pm on Friday.
Wordsworth Books has invited all "muggles" to a pyjama or fancydress party to collect pre-ordered copies. Guests are reminded to dress in "Potter gear". The parties at Somerset Mall, Gardens Centre, V&A Waterfront, Longbeach Mall in Noordhoek, Bayside in Table View and St George's Square in George start at midnight on Friday.
Books will arrive by owl-mail at 1.01am on Saturday.
Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's are selling reserved copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at £8,96 (about R104) compared with the cover price of £16,99 (about R200), and are expected to lower their prices still further ahead of the release at midnight on Friday.
Kwik Save has announced it will sell the book at £4,99, the lowest price so far announced by a retailer, although the offer is open only to under-15s.
The supermarkets are benefiting from the decision by publisher Bloomsbury to give the biggest purchasers the biggest discounts.
In the United States online bookseller Alibris has launched a special offer to buy used copies of the new Harry Potter book for $5 (about R33). Alibris, which normally buys used or remaindered books from libraries and bookstores, is targeting parents whose children pressure them into buying more than one copy of the book so all siblings can read it on the day of the launch.
And in Canada the publisher of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has obtained a Supreme Court injunction banning anyone from reading the book before Saturday morning after 14 copies were accidentally sold in a Vancouver bookshop. - Staff Reporter.