LONDON (Reuters) - Leading supermarkets have embarked on a last-minute price war over the final book in the Harry Potter wizard series, slashing prices to 4.99 pounds in an effort to lure shoppers to their stores.
Such aggressive discounting means the book will be sold at a loss by many supermarkets and provides a fresh headache for independent booksellers who will sell the book at or near the recommended retail price of 17.99 pounds. Many leading book retailers have priced the book closer to the 10 pound mark.
"The deep discounting of this book is so prevalent and the price competition between retailers so intense that there are many retailers who will be using this as a loss leader rather than looking to make millions," said Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association. "There is undeniably something crazy here and in my view the book industry has been considerable weakened by this deep discounting," he added.
Supermarket chain Asda made the book available to buy online for five pounds including delivery, and a spokeswoman said on Friday that the allotted 6,500 copies sold out within an hour.
Asda, the British unit of Wal-Mart Stores, has lined up a delivery of 500,000 copies that go on sale from Saturday.
The supermarket is limiting sales of the book to two per person to prevent bulk buying.
Supermarkets had taken pre-orders for J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" at 8.87 pounds, but had been expected to cut this Friday, on the eve of the book's launch.
Asda said online pre-orders for the book which had been made at 8.87 will now be sold at 5 pounds.
Asked about the level of loss being incurred and the impact for the publishing industry, the spokeswoman said supermarkets and specialist book retailers served different consumer needs.
"We have invested really heavily in making this last instalment accessible to everybody and we were committed to selling this book at prices children can afford and that is what we have done," said an Asda spokeswoman.
Morrison Supermarkets cut its price from 5.99 pounds to 4.99. Tesco is selling the "Deathly Hallows" for five pounds if shoppers spend at least 50 pounds in a store while Woolworths pegged its price at 6.99. J Sainsbury kept its sale price at 8.87 pounds.
A spokeswoman for Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books, said the London-based company found the supermarket's discounting drive "absolutely astonishing".
"They are pretending to be Robin Hood but they are being the Sheriff of Nottingham as they only have one thing in mind," she said.
The discounting makes little difference to Bloomsbury in financial terms and could ultimately provide an additional bonus from higher proceeds. The publisher agreed its sale price with supermarkets and retailers months back and this does not change.
However a poll of 60 independent book stores earlier this week found many planned to stock the Potter book by buying from supermarkets and discount retailers rather than wholesalers.
Sales figures for the book, which hits U.S. shelves at 12:01 a.m. British time on Saturday, are expected to be available within days.
Online retailer Amazon.com said on Friday its global pre-order figure has reached 2.2 million, a 47 percent increase on the previous pre-order total achieved by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince".
Amazon said on Tuesday it handled 20,000 pre-orders within 24 hours or one copy transaction every four seconds.
The book provides the final chapter in a cultural phenomenon credited with creating millions of young readers and capturing the imaginations of many adults.