Harry Potter mania has come to Exeter. Yes, during a brief trip to the town centre this afternoon, we spied witches, wizards and some extremely cynical shop staff – the latter not so surprising, given the efforts required of them over the past couple of days. But what really surprised me was the lack of stock. We have two branches of Waterstone’s in Exeter. (A stranglehold that prevents the blossoming of any independent shops run by staff who don’t need customers to spell Norman Mailer’s surname when asking for his latest work, but I digress.) In the first branch, my enquiry about whether any Potter volumes remained was met by a polite and amused shake of the head. Only those customers who have reserved a copy, apparently, are able to purchase it today. It was the same story at the second branch of Waterstone’s. Quite extraordinarily – given the amount of dough that publishers are wont to cough up for the privilege – there was a large, empty table in the entranceway.
I struggle to understand how this can happen. On the launch day of perhaps the most anticipated book of the last two years, Waterstone’s Exeter sold their stock by mid-day. Each person who asked for a copy (and there were a couple in front of me) was turned away. Did Bloomsbury deliberately limit the amount that a given store could shift? Possibly, but this seems counter-intuitive. They can’t superificially kick up the value by throttling back demand in the way that Nike or Sony might with a new product. And, in fact, those new products (like the PS3) are more greatly limited by the availability of material resources like silicon. What limits are there on paper?
Overall, the affair is puzzling. As Grumpy Old Bookman has opined, there can be no better demonstration of the oddness of the book trade than Harry Potter: the most sought-after volume in the past couple of years is going to make very little money for anyone other than Bloomsbury.
Two copies were finally purchased in W. H. Smith, which seemed to have anticipated demand rather more accurately than Waterstone’s. Two copies? So my girlfriend and I can read them with squabbling.