Welcome Back, Potter: Ron Weighs In


By Neal Comment

While Sarah works the TV beat, I touch base with Josh Getlin of the LA Times about whether the discounts on Deathly Hallows will really work. The article, co-reported with Martha Groves, cites Association of American Publishers VP Tina Jordan in support of the view that “discounting worked, because sales were higher during a Harry Potter year,” but the overall tone suggests that might be a short-sighted strategy. The question is: Do bookstores make up the money they’ll lose cutting the price on a Potter book by creating new generations of loyal customers who will return for future purchases not just this year, but the next? The Times, with an assist from industry analyst Albert Greco (among others), says “the so-called halo effect, in which customers come for one book but buy other similar titles as well, has rarely materialized.” Me, I just say the massive discounts are “absurd,” and advise indie bookstores to stop complaining and ride out the hoopla until the chains finish strip mining their own profit margins.

What didn’t make it into the article: All the points I made about how these discounts might be motivated in part by the fact that $34.99 is way more than anybody should expect to pay for a YA fantasy hardcover, even if it is nearly 800 pages long. (Against the Day had a $35 price tag, too, but it had approximately 350 more pages; by comparison, Sacred Games was almost 150 pages longer than HP7, yet it only cost $27.95.) Also left on the cutting room floor: all my cleverboots commentary on how, sure, revenues might very well dip without Harry next year, but Hollywood thought the year after Passion of the Christ looked bad for the theatrical market, too, and it didn’t take long for the movie industry to regain that lost ground. Well, then: what can the book industry do to achieve the same outcome?