NEW YORK – There's clearly something about Harry.
The new "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (search) sold an astonishing 6.9 million copies in the United States in its first 24 hours — averaging better than 250,000 sales per hour and smashing the record held by the previous Potter release.
"This is a cause for celebration, not just for Scholastic, but for book lovers everywhere," said Lisa Holton, president of Scholastic Children's Books (search), author J.K. Rowling's (search) U.S. publisher.
Sales for the sixth installment of Rowling's fantasy series easily outpaced those for the last Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which came out in 2003 and sold 5 million copies in the first 24 hours.
Acknowledging that some stores quickly ran out of books two years ago, Scholastic has already increased the print run for "Half-Blood Prince" from 10.8 million copies to 13.5 million.
British publisher Bloomsbury announced Monday that just over 2 million copies sold on the first day of release, a 13 percent increase over the last book and a record for that country.
Anticipated from the moment fans finished "Order of the Phoenix," the new book has been available virtually everywhere, from price clubs and supermarkets to the Scholastic Web site. Holton said Sunday that a big factor in the new sales record was a six-fold increase in the number of Potter bookstore parties, from 800 to 5,000, with both superstores and independent retailers dramatically increasing their participation.
Even allowing for deep discounts on the $29.99 release, "Half-Blood Prince" easily generated more than $100 million in revenue, topping the combined estimated take for the weekend's top two movies, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Wedding Crashers." "When a book beats out movies, we're in great shape," Holton said.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, said he did not believe that Potter pulled kids away from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which starred Johnny Depp as the reclusive candy king Willy Wonka.
"With a $55 million opening, it's hard to say anything had a negative effect on the movie's performance," Dergarabedian said Sunday. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was the biggest debut ever for Depp, topping the $46.6 million opening weekend of his 2003 hit, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble Inc. estimated 1.3 million U.S. sales for the latest Potter book in its first 48 hours, around 400,000 higher than for the first 48 hours of "Order of the Phoenix." Rival superstore chain Borders Group Inc. reported a record 850,000 in "Half-Blood Prince" sales worldwide in the first day, 100,000 greater than for the debut of the last Potter book.
Although "Half-Blood Prince" only went on sale midnight Saturday, some readers have already decided to pass their copies on to others. Used editions were available through eBay, Amazon.com and Alibris.com.
Unlike most blockbusters, "Half-Blood Prince" is also a hit with critics, getting raves from The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The Associated Press and others. Many found it Rowling's deepest, most accomplished work, with a tragic conclusion that left even reviewers in tears.
A dissenting opinion came from the San Francisco Chronicle, where David Kipen observed of the 600-plus page novel: "A major character dies by the end of the latest Harry Potter book; readers who bore easily may feel a bit done in themselves.
"It's not that 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' is dull, exactly. ... No, the main problem is that J.K. Rowling has now written six of these bricks. Even if they were getting better, they're certainly not getting any fresher."
As for the author, she defends her boy wizard. "He does become more battle hardened. So he's now ready to go out fighting. He's after revenge," Rowling said Monday in an interview on NBC's "Today."