Fifth Harry Potter Due on June 21
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By Dan Lalor
LONDON (Reuters) – Harry Potter (news – web sites) fans will get a weighty fifth installment in J.K. Rowling (news – web sites)’s series about a boy wizard when “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is released on June 21, her publishers said on Wednesday.
Bloomsbury of Britain and Scholastic of the United States said the manuscript has finally been delivered for the book, which will be a third longer than the series’ fourth installment, the 734-page “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
Potter fans have had to wait three years for “Order of the Phoenix,” now set for release in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia and other countries on the same June Saturday.
“Goblet of Fire,” published in July 2000, was the fastest-selling book in history on the first weekend of its publication. Movie versions of the series’ first two books, which adapted Rowlings’ world of witches and wizards living in a world hidden to ordinary humans (known as Muggles) for the big screen, have grossed more than $1.7 billion.
“We expect it to be as popular as the previous four, and it will probably be more expensive and have higher margins (because of its size),” said SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Frank Gristina.
MUGGLE SHARES RISE
Shares of Bloomsbury and Scholastic climbed on Wednesday as investors were relieved that the book’s release was on the horizon at last. The series makes up a substantial portion of the publishers’ revenues.
Since “Goblet of Fire” was published, Rowling has gotten married and is pregnant. Her baby is due this spring.
“The risk was that she is due to deliver her child in February, and if she hadn’t gotten the manuscript in before that then the book might have been delayed,” said Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine.
“It’s always good to have a title in the summer — you’re catching kids during summer break and that’s when they do their pleasure reading,” Fine added. “Luckily my kids aren’t at the stage any more where I needed to FedEx (the books) to them at summer camp.”
Bloomsbury’s stock rose 27-1/2 pence, or 4 percent, to 720 pence on the London Stock Exchange. Scholastic shares were up $2.88, or 8.34 percent, to $37.41 in late-afternoon Nasdaq trading, on a day when most U.S. media stocks were in negative territory.
“We knew the book was coming but the timing was not set,” said Gristina. “Publishers trade on a multiple of forward earnings; now Scholastic can trade on Harry Potter earnings.”
The British bookseller Waterstone’s said that within two hours of the announcement “the interest has been phenomenal.”
Like “Goblet of Fire,” “Order of the Phoenix” is being released on a Saturday. So eager fans will not have to miss a day off school or work to buy the new book.
By then, most will likely know the first few sentences — “The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.” — by heart.
All four Harry Potter books — “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” as well as “Goblet of Fire” — are still on bestseller lists around the world.
For Scholastic Corp., a New York-based publisher of children’s and educational books and the top operator of book fairs in U.S. schools, Potter has been a huge success.
The four titles generated combined U.S. hardcover and paperback sales of about 80 million copies, Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman said. It was their dominance of the U.S. fiction market that prompted the New York Times to launch a bestseller list for children’s titles.
“In fiscal 2001 when this title peaked, it contributed $200 million in sales … about 10 percent of their total sales” Merrill Lynch analyst Fine said. That year, the fourth title was published in hardcover and the second title in paperback.
The success of the series has also been a significant driver for Scholastic’s stock, which topped out at nearly $57 in April 2002, up nearly three-fold during the main run of the first four books.
But the company’s bottom line and stock price have suffered in recent quarters as the “Order of the Phoenix” launch was pushed back into Scholastic’s fiscal year 2004, beginning this June 1. (Additional reporting by Adam Pasick in New York)