Retailers hope to cash in on 'Potter' book's release

Friday, June 20, 2003

NEW YORK -- Harry Potter candy, cakes, capes and toys: As the latest adventure tale of the young wizard hits the stores, retailers hope to sell more than just books.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will offer Harry Potter cakes and is increasing its selection of toys and DVDs. Toys "R" Us has created Harry Potter boutiques within its stores.

But the popularity of these items, which are not tied to the new title, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," remains to be seen, because books generally don't move merchandise the way movies do.

"I never believed that Harry Potter in its literary form is an engine for merchandise sales," said Seth Siegel, co-owner of The Beanstalk Group, a trademark licensing group.

Another question is whether consumers will tire of Harry Potter paraphernalia, which is expected to be hyped even more when the third movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," reaches theaters in June 2004.

Still, observers such as Candace Corlette, a principal at WSL Strategic Ltd., a retail consultancy, believe this weekend's arrival of the book will "trigger an explosion in sales of all things Harry Potter." She likened the book release to a movie launch, and noted that there's a new generation of Harry Potter fans to buy products.

In fact, in anticipation of the book's arrival, eBay, the Internet auction site, created a separate Harry Potter page to help consumers find items, and reported that there are now 10,000 listings. Last weekend, a first edition of each of J.K. Rowling's first four Harry Potter books sold for total of $5,000, officials said.

Record first printing

Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of the books, has commissioned a record 8.5 million-copy first printing for the latest volume.

Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association, noted that sales of Harry Potter merchandise held steady this year even without a movie release and products tied to the second movie outsold those from the first.

The movie version of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was released in 2001, while "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" came out late last year.

Warner Brothers, which owns the movie and the licensing rights, purposely did not create any products tied to the new book.

"The book release creates an opportunity for stores to create a boutique environment, but the book is a clearly stand-alone as it deserves to be," said Karine Joret, spokeswoman at Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

Barbara Talcott, of Winchester, Mass., whose 11-year-old son Benjamin has action figures and DVDs based on the Harry Potter movies, said she may spring for more items.

"If the kids dive into the book, and we get excited by the merchandise in the stores, I might buy some more," said Talcott, who has two other sons, ages 15 and 6.

Benjamin said: "It depends on what I see."

But Jennifer Arvin, of St. Louis, said her 11-year-old daughter Samantha has a lot of Harry Potter merchandise -- including capes, glasses, action figures and ornaments -- and she doesn't think she'll purchase more.

"It's a little bit too much," Arvin said.

Pete Healy, vice president of marketing at Jelly Belly Candy Co., one of the makers of the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans featured in the books, said there has been a 50 percent jump in orders from stores over the past few weeks.

In addition to earwax jelly beans, the company makes such flavors as black pepper, spinach and sardines.

Last year, Jelly Belly began selling the beans to bookstores and in the last few months expanded to video stores and movie theaters.

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