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‘Potter’ is publishing magic to cash registers

Bookstores expect to sell 50,000 copies an hour when “Half Blood Prince” is initially released. NBC News correspondent Anne Thompson reports.
/ Source: TODAY

The much anticipated “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is expected to reign at bookstore cash registers around the globe when it goes on sale this weekend. NBC News correspondent Anne Thompson reports on the business phenomenon that's breaking book records.

There are best seller lists that keep track of weekly sales and daily sales. But when it comes to all time sales, three titles dominate: the Bible, quotations from Chairman Mao and Harry Potter.

The first five books about the adventures of the bespectacled orphan in wizard's school sold a whopping 270 million copies in 62 languages. A title that is still publishing magic and why Steve Riggio, CEO of Barnes and Noble, the nation's largest bookstore chain, can't wait for midnight Friday. “We will sell 50,000 copies per hour of this book in the first 24 hours,” says Riggio. “Now let's understand, less than 1 percent of all books published sell 50,000 in their lifetime and this well sell 50 thousand per hour,” he adds.

The first printing of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is nearly 11 million copies. The title is so hot that two British men are accused of trying to sell a stolen copy to two tabloid newspapers. 

The legal sales of Harry – that keep children up all night when a book comes out – creates an excitement that Riggio says is contagious. “It has tremendous coattails. Kids’ interest in reading and particularly the genre has expanded onto series like “Lemony Snicket,” “The Inheritage Trilogy” and a resurgence in classic series like the “Chronicles of Narnia.” So big coattails,” he says.

Coattails that are not critics say made of purely hype. “The thing about the Harry Potter books and the movies is they get better and better and deeper and richer. What's unusual in the movies – separate from the books – is that the third in the series is the most original, the most interesting, the most successful as a movie,” says Thelma Adams, US Weekly film critic.

Perhaps from a critic's point of view but not at the box office. The movies, while tremendously successful, taking in well over $8 million in this country alone, have seen their sales decline with each release.

The number of books in print in this country has followed a similar path.  

Yet even the least successful of the series, the fifth book with 16 million copies in print, dwarfs almost all other works of fiction including the hot selling “Da Vinci Code.” 

Numbers that entertainment trend watcher Ira Mayer says make Harry a classic brand.

“It shows some of the characteristics of a fad because of the extreme sales in a narrow piece of time, but then it becomes a franchise because it continues, it never disappears,” says Mayer.

But it does wane though Warner Brothers reaped a stunning the $3 billion from the film and merchandising rights to Harry. This time around some bookstores, including the Borders chain, are pulling back on those extras. Focusing instead on what remains the heart of the Harry Potter phenomenon – the magic of reading.