July 17, 2007 / 10:44 AM / 10 years ago

Asda apologises in Potter pricing row

<p>An Asda location in an undated photo. The publisher of the Harry Potter books called in the lawyers after a supermarket chain accused it of "blatant profiteering" for charging 17.99 pounds for the final novel in the series. REUTERS/Handout</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Asda apologised to the publisher of the Harry Potter books on Tuesday, having accused it earlier of “blatant profiteering” for charging 17.99 pounds for the last novel in the series.

Asda also agreed to pay financial arrears to Bloomsbury, a spokeswoman for the chain said.

In return, Bloomsbury will supply Asda with 500,000 copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the eagerly awaited final chapter of the series which many expect to become the fastest-selling book in history.

The publisher had threatened to cancel Asda’s order for the book, which goes on sale at one minute past midnight British time on Saturday, July 21.

The climbdown by Asda appeared to have ended a brief but ill-tempered row between the Potter publisher and one of its biggest supermarket chains.

“Asda apologise unreservedly to Bloomsbury for its press release dated July 15 and withdraw their statement,” an Asda spokeswoman said, reading from a prepared statement.

“We look forward to a good relationship with Bloomsbury going forward, including selling the latest Harry Potter book ... and many other Bloomsbury books in the future.”

“HOLDING CHILDREN TO RANSOM”

The press release issued on Sunday began: “Today, Asda pointed the finger directly at Bloomsbury for attempting to hold children to ransom by raising the recommended retail price on the final Harry Potter instalment.”

It added that the pricing was “blatant profiteering”.

Bloomsbury hit back with a legal letter to Asda on Tuesday.

“It did start with the invoicing arrears, but you can’t escape from the fact that this press release is extremely provocative, and I think potentially libellous,” Bloomsbury marketing director Minna Fry said earlier in the day.

The cover price of 17.99 pounds for “Deathly Hallows” compares with 11.99 pounds for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, the first in the series, published in 1997.

That book was 223 pages long, compared with 608 pages for the seventh and last instalment.

Bloomsbury defended the increase in Potter book prices.

“That was 10 years ago and that was around 200 pages,” said Fry, referring to the “Philosopher’s Stone”.

“This is 608 pages long ... 17.99 is in line with other hardback novels of this length.”

Asda, rival supermarket chains and online retailers have launched an aggressive price war over the final Potter book, which is likely to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide.

Small, independent booksellers complain they have been squeezed out of the market as a result.

Asda has been taking online pre-orders of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” for 8.87 pounds, believed to be well below the wholesale price. Asda said it would announce its in-store price on Friday.

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