Like the Hogwart's Express, the invisible train that brings Harry Potter and his friends to their magic school, J.K. Rowling's final tale of the young wizard's saga is building steam as it approaches its July 21 release date.
Around the country, bookstores are planning late-night bashes the night before, complete with costume parties, broomsticks and Harry's favorite game, quidditch. The book goes on sale at the stroke of midnight and is likely to perform its own magic trick, vanishing from shelves in a day.
The nation's largest bookseller Amazon.com has created an elaborate plan to deliver the more than 1.5 million books already ordered online. The online bookseller promises to drop the novel on every customer's doorstep if it is preordered at least three days before the launch date.
"It's the biggest book we'll ever sell all year, and perhaps in the history of Amazon," said Sean Sundall, the company's spokesperson for all things "Harry Potter."
Who Will Die?
Spellbound readers are fretting over the fate of their beloved scar-faced wizard in the last book, forebodingly titled "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
They aren't alone. Publishers and booksellers worry whether they will make a killing as the seven-book series comes to an end, or whether their profits will suffer.
Bloomsbury PLC, the British publisher of the "Harry Potter" books, said advance orders in the United Kingdom were up 17 percent from the last "Harry Potter" book. U.S. publisher Scholastic will print 12 million copies of "Deathly Hallows" on its first run alone.
Massive price discounts set by the big retailers such as Barnes and Nobles, Costco and Wal-Mart will make it harder for stores to earn a profit off the book despite expectations the book will set a new sales records. "Deathly Hallows" retails for $34.99, but many retailers are slashing prices close by $20 to bring customers into their stores.
Analysts say that while publishers are certain to earn a profit, bookstores will most likely break even and perhaps lose money. Even Amazon.com's CEO Jeff Bezos admitted that the company would not make any money from the new "Potter" book, but he hoped the low price and guaranteed delivery option would bring new customers to the site.
Likewise, larger bookstores hope the book will bring in more shoppers browsing and buying more books.
"It's an opportunity to undersell the new book, but at the same time promote backlist in ancillary products," said Lorraine Shanley, a principal at Market Partners International Inc., a book publishing consultancy. "The point is they use 'Harry Potter' for a different end, and whether that's selling more product or creating loyalty it ultimately is a win-win."
Small mom-and-pop bookstores, however, say they can't make the cut.
"It could be the largest book to make money, but places like Amazon are selling them 40 percent off," said Tom Holbrook, who runs a small shop called RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H. "You can't compete with them on price, so we don't discount. Our customers, fortunately, are OK with that."
Neil Blair, a business representative for Rowling at Christopher Little, would not disclose how much the author would earn from her latest book. He assured ABC News that she would not be affected by the price wars.
'Potter' Magic Grows
The June report from the Book Industry Study Group predicted that overall sales in the young adult books would increase this year, largely because of the final "Harry Potter" book.
"'Harry Potter' gets juveniles to read and brings people into bookstores," said Albert Greco, a lead researcher for the BISG report and a business professor at Fordham University.
While retailers may not earn any profits from the final chapter in the "Potter" saga, Greco said that the book would give bookstores business for years to come. The paperback version of "Deathly Hollows" will lead to a spike in sales when it is released next year, he said. And with every new film that depicts the young wizard's adventures on screen — there are two remaining — customers will go back to the store to buy the books.
"It's great for kids, great for reading and great for the entire book industry," said Greco.
The 'Harry Potter' Empire
The series has sold more than 320 million book copies worldwide in 64 languages. Warner Bros. Studios has made four films that have grossed more than $3.5 billion in worldwide box offices sales. The fifth movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," will open in theaters next week.
With this broad-based appeal, many businesses are quick to jump on the "Potter" product bandwagon.
"The 'Harry Potter' property has already proven to be a hugely successful franchise between the many books and films," said Tim Kilpin, general manager for Boys and Girls Entertainment at Mattel Brands. He declined to reveal how much the toy maker had earned from the brand. Some of the company's offerings include "Harry Potter" board games such as a version of Scene It, a multimedia game that tests players' knowledge of "Potter" trivia through film clips.
There are also hundreds of ancillary merchandise for sale, from toy wands and candy, to computer games and how-to books about knitting scarves in Gryffindor colors. According to A.C. Neilsen, since 2002 the "Harry Potter" brand has led to more than $11.8 million in sales of "Harry Potter" cookies, candy and gum.
At Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, a "Harry Potter" theme park is in the works that will recreate life-size versions of Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle at an estimated price tag of a half-billion dollars. Scheduled to be completed in 2009, the attraction will be the park's most expensive venture, according to Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks.
"There's a huge appetite for Harry Potter and his adventures," Williams said. "We're hoping to cash in on the fan base of the millions of readers worldwide who might just want to see the wizarding world recreated."
A Timeless Enchantment
At a time when readership has declined among the country's young, educators, booksellers and publishers say that Harry Potter has brought kids back to books.
"[J.K. Rowling] has managed to strike a nerve and connect with a whole generation of children," said Maria Tatar, a professor at Harvard University who teaches children's literature.
"Both girls and boys can identify with Harry. He's oppressed by home life, bored and persecuted, but then he gets to enter an exciting new world where he can use his magical powers and where he can be smart and defeat villains. That's every child's fantasy."
But it is not just kids who are bewitched by Rowling's stories; adults have fallen under the spell cast by Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione.
"Harry Potter is loveable and likeable," said Charlotte Wager, whose loyal customers, young and old alike, at her small store in Folsom, Calif., the Book Barn, have bought the books for years. "He's a hero."
For many businesses looking into their crystal balls, they hope that the magic of Harry Potter will continue for years to come and lead not just to enduring memories for his fans, but to bewitching profits as well.