NEW YORK -- Harry Potter's wizardry has already cast a spell upon readers worldwide, but bookstores are hoping he'll create some cash-register magic with next week's launch of the fourth story in the best-selling series.
Many merchants are staying open until the early morning hours of July 8, when the book is released. Others are organizing Harry Potter-themed parties with magic shows and live owls. Internet retail giant Amazon.com, meanwhile, is countering by promising FedEx quick delivery for up to 250,000 online shoppers.
''We are opening at midnight to sell at the earliest possible moment,'' said Becky Whidden, a manager at The Children's Book Shop in the Boston suburb of Brookline. ''People are extremely anxious for it.''
Since the first Harry Potter book was released in Britain in 1997, the series by author J.K. Rowling has been a runaway sensation, remaining a constant on best-seller lists.
The 752-page fourth book will land with a first printing of 3.8 million copies, which many in the publishing business say is a record for the industry. It will be launched simultaneously in the United States and Britain -- a change from the other three books, which appeared overseas first.
Demand has been so great for No. 4 that its U.S. publisher Scholastic has set up a help desk for booksellers just to ask questions about orders and shipping of the new book.
The craze for Harry Potter, the orphan who hones his magical skills at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, has added lots of excitement to the children's book business, and has managed to turn many children on to reading in general. And while it was written for the younger set, it has become a phenomenon among adults too.
''I think they're going to be classics, like right up there with 'Old Yeller' and 'A Wrinkle in Time,''' said Leah Williams, a 12-year-old who plans to be at Square Books in Oxford, Miss., the first morning the new book goes on sale. ''I like stuff that's not real because it takes me into a different world.''
With all the attention, many bricks-and-mortar stores view the launch as a way to offer shoppers something more than they could find at the Internet superstores, most of which will take a few days to deliver the new book.
Some merchants -- from small independent stores to giant chains like Barnes & Noble -- are keeping their doors open past 12:01 a.m. on July 8 when it officially goes on sale.
Others are opening at dawn with their stores transformed into their interpretation of Harry Potter's world.
At the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., face-painters will be drawing lightning bolts on children's foreheads -- just like the one Harry Potter has on his skull -- and there will be three live owls, which are considered friends and messengers in the books.
In Buckhannon, W.Va., owner Michael Oldaker is considering building a set of scenes from the book in front of his store. The staff at The Blue Marble in Ft. Thomas, Ky., will dress up like witches and wizards and offer cinnamon oatmeal from a black cauldron for breakfast.
In Britain, the 209 branches of Waterstone's bookstores are planning a range of activities, from wizards with wheelbarrows in the town center of Canterbury to general knowledge quizzes and guess-the-title competitions.
''It's probably the most important book that booksellers will sell this year,'' said Liz Sich, who handles publicity for Waterstone's.
While die-hard Harry Potter fans will find lots to do at traditional bookstores, there is no guarantee that these shops won't sell out fast. Many, in fact, are expecting Christmas-like crowds and already have dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of pre-orders.
That's where Internet superstores are seeking out an advantage. If a consumer shops at their site, they are immediately told whether or not the book is in stock and when they will be able to get it.
Many cyberstores are also offering deep discounts, with Amazon slashing 40 percent off the $25.95 price and Barnes & Noble.com cutting 30 percent. That's something that most smaller stores can't afford to do.
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