Harry Potter and the sorry supermarket

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HARRY Potter’s publishers have delivered a Hogwarts howler to the Co-op. The retail chain has been told that it will not be given any copies of JK Rowling’s latest book in advance of next week’s publication, as punishment for breaking the rules last time around.

While millions of children around the world snap up copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from midnight on 21 June, there won’t be any copies on the shelves of the Co-op’s 1,000 stores.

Bloomsbury, the publishers, has sent the supermarket group to the back of the class as retribution for breaking the strict embargo surrounding the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in July 2000.

In a 20-page document distributed to all booksellers in Britain last week, Bloomsbury has issued a list of conditions surrounding the sale of Harry Potter’s fifth adventure.

They include a requirement that all copies are kept sealed in their boxes and under lock and key until just before midnight on the day of publication. Booksellers will start receiving their supplies of the book on Thursday, 19 June, but must wait until the start of midsummer’s day before putting them on sale.

"It is the most Draconian set of rules I have ever seen from a publisher in 30 years of business," one bookseller said yesterday. "They won’t even allow us to peek at the book covers until the publication day."

In the document, Bloomsbury has singled out an un-named retailer which broke the rules three years ago and said it was being punished by having its Harry Potter books withheld.

"I think it is supposed to be a lesson to the rest of us," one industry insider said. "If we break the rules, we will be suitably punished."

The Co-op confirmed that it was the guilty party. "Some of our outlets did put the last Harry Potter book on sale a little too early," a spokeswoman said.

"Bloomsbury are not releasing the book to us until the actual day of publication instead of giving it to us in advance."

The Co-op spokeswoman insisted the breaking of the embargo for the last Potter was an innocent error. "We’re not specialist book retailers and there were a number of store managers around the country who put the book out early. It was a simple mistake."

The Co-op said it was aiming to put the book on sale about three days after the publication date, by which time an estimated 13 million copies of the hardback book will already have been on sale in rival stores. Bloomsbury declined to comment on the Co-op ban.

The company has issued booksellers with promotional packs to coincide with the launch of Harry Potter and the Order and the Phoenix, including specially made signs saying "Do Not Disturb - Reading Harry Potter", for children to hang on their bedroom doors after they have picked up their copy.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be the fastest-selling book of all time and has already smashed publishing records with an estimated 13 million copies going on sale around the world.

With only 11 days to go until publication, fans of the schoolboy wizard are clamouring for the chance to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix signed by JK Rowling and put up for auction on the internet in aid of the deaf and blind charity Sense.

The auction started yesterday and will close on 20 June, but the winner will not receive their prize until the following day.

Signed copies of the fifth book in the series are likely to be especially valuable because Rowling is doing very little promotional work for the publication launch.

In 2000, Rowling toured the country on a replica of the Hogwarts Express train signing copies of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but this time around she is expected to remain out of the public eye on publication day.

The only promotional event will be a live reading from the novel at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, on 26 June, which will be broadcast live over the internet.

Paul Amadi, the director of fundraising at Sense, said: "With no official book signings planned in the near future by JK Rowling, Harry Potter enthusiasts and book collectors will be eager to get their hands on possibly one of the few signed copies available.

"We are hoping to raise as much money as possible from the sale to go towards providing better services for the deaf-blind people Sense works with."

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