Harry Potter and the Cursed Pre-orders

I was sent on a mission - a dad mission. The youngest one wanted the new Harry Potter book. I had no choice but to accept…

Not that I need much convincing to go into a bookshop. I regularly go into them, deep undercover, incognito, to look at various books. I love to grill the staff about marketing ideas, what’s selling, what’s not - and their views on why that is. Call it covert market research.   

On this particular mission, I found myself in a bog-standard, middle-England, medium sized branch of Waterstones.

J.K. Rowling’s latest tome is due for launch at the stroke of midnight on 31st July and fans up and down the country are getting very excited about it. Waterstones have been pushing it since February with chalkboards and posters outside the store.  If you’ve walked down your local high street since about Valentine’s Day, you may have been aware of it.

The man behind the counter informed me that with just a couple of weeks left to go, I was the 451st customer to order a copy.

Good – this one was ready to talk – I didn’t need to rough him up.

Which got me asking the member of staff….

How many branches do you have?

The answer was approximately 300.

So if we use 450 copies as an average figure per store - across 300 stores – Waterstones are currently looking at pre-orders in the region of 135,000 for J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II’.

‘Half-price if you order now!’, shout the posters.

And even at half price, the cost is still £10.00! (‘Oh, but it IS a hardback’, they say…)

Of course, we have to remember that Harry Potter is loved by kids and adults alike. This is no niche target audience. This is one of, if not the biggest book launch - we are talking bigger than Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman'.

So at £10 a throw, Waterstones have around £1.35 million in their tills.

And they know the minimum number of take home copies that they need to print to fulfil early launch demand.

It all makes good business sense.


Book marketing and other magic spells

And so that got me thinking. I've been aware that this particular book needed to be purchased since February - but not until today did I fulfil my 'dad mission'. 

So how many times do people see your book and have it in their head to buy it, but not actually buy it?

There always used to be a rule of thumb that seven was the magic number in the world of marketing. The Direct Marketing Association used to say the average person needs to see an ad seven times before they would respond to it and even consider a potential purchase.

Nowadays, the rule seems to have been stretched because product choice and platforms have all expanded. The common thinking is that we as consumers will need to connect with a product in some way around 11 or even 12 times before we make a purchase.



So that might mean that we:

1.    See an offer outside a store

2.    Watch an advert on TV

3.    Read an article in the newspaper

4.    Catch something on the radio

5.    Have it come up in conversation with a friend

6.    See it appear in or alongside a Google search on the internet

7.    Have Amazon recommend it to us

8.    See it on a billboard at a train station

9.    Read a review about it

10. Spot a flyer that’s come through the door

11. See a recommendation from someone else on a Facebook group

12. And finally… get a loved one with pester power, hinting about it…

 And then, and only then…do we get around to considering our purchase.

So after all those hard yards.

After all that marketing legwork.

After I’d finally decided to accept my 'dad mission'.

And Waterstones had finally got my business… I asked them, ‘How will I know that my book is ready for me?’.

‘Oh just pop in after 31st July and collect it,’ they said.

'Do you want my email address?' I asked.

‘No, we don’t need your email address.’


‘No, just bring your receipt. If you fail to collect it within two or three weeks, we might call you to remind you.’

‘But you don’t want my email address?’

‘No, we don’t want your email address.’

By my rough calculations, that’s an extra 135,000 readers that Waterstones might be passing up for repeat business. 135,000 that they could have marketed ‘similar books you might also like’ or the next Harry Potter launch to.

And even though I love Waterstones dearly, I did wonder…Harry Potter might have all the magic spells, but by what dark arts is a business with a sales and marketing model like that, continuing to exist..?

*UPDATE: August 2016, I forgot about my book for a couple of weeks, but the Waterstones store didn't call me about it. I did eventually remember to go and pick it up.

**UPDATE: As of January 2018, Waterstones' Russian owner has announced he is selling the store. Overall number of stores in the estate is now 274.  The latest set of accounts filed on Companies House reveal that profit after tax fell by 8.5% to £16.1m.


David Videcette is a former Scotland Yard investigator. His latest thriller, The Theseus Paradox is based on real events and is available here from Waterstones, or Amazon, or on Kindle and he would dearly love to take your email address, here.