LONDON – The final installment of the Harry Potter series is on track to break previous sales records as its British publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, revealed Thursday that export orders are already 17 percent ahead of the total overseas sales of the last book.
The seventh book in the series about the boy magician, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," will be published on July 21 with much fanfare, including a midnight reading and signing in London by author J.K. Rowling.
Bloomsbury Chairman Nigel Newton did not give any specific figures for the export orders, but Amazon.co.uk has taken more than 1.4 million pre-orders for the novel.
Overseas demand for the final book has been driven by the fact that the publication of translated versions can take up to three to six months.
The Potter books have been translated into 65 languages and have so far sold more than 300 million copies around the world since the first book was published in 1997.
That has made Rowling a multimillionaire — with a net worth of around 545 million pounds ($1.09 billion), according to The Sunday Times annual rich list, in contrast to the 320 million pound ($639 million) net worth of Queen Elizabeth II — and underpinning Bloomsbury's profit for several years.
Newton indicated Thursday that the company planned to string those earnings out for as long as possible.
It will launch the boxed-set editions of the complete series of all seven Harry Potter books on Oct. 1 and the paperback edition of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in 2008.
The publisher also plans to continue to launch editions to coincide with the film releases, the fifth of which — "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," — is also scheduled for July.
However, the company has also acknowledged it needs to look beyond Potter. Its shares dropped almost 40 percent in the final months of last year after the absence of a new title on the wizard severely crimped its profit.
After last year's unexpected drop in sales, Newton said Bloomsbury would not be giving profit guidance for this year. He added that the publishing market continues to be "difficult" and "unpredictable," but the Harry Potter export pre-orders and a number of British best-sellers such as Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns" had helped.
Beyond Potter, Newton said that the company is making progress on a development strategy to leverage its international business, expand its U.S. operations and publish more best-sellers.
To that end, Bloomsbury has recently signed new long-term reference contracts with Oxford University Press for an online version of Who's Who and with Microsoft Corp. for the license of electronic rights to a reference database. It also renewed an agreement with ProQuest for Whitaker's Almanack.
"These initiatives will help underpin the long-term success of the business between 2008-2012," Newton said.
The Harry Potter books are published in the United States by Scholastic Corp.