Maybe it should be called "Harry Potter and the Deathly Discounts."
British retailer Asda Group said Thursday that it would sell the final installment of the Harry Potter series for just 5 pounds ($10), just over one-fourth of the recommended retail price.
Such price cutting in Britain is alarming some U.S. industry analysts who fear it could set a dangerous precedent for the U.S. market, where discounters are already waging fierce price wars with traditional book sellers for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and last title of the series.
Wal-Mart Stores , which owns Asda, is selling the 784-page book, to be released Saturday, for $17.87 with a 97 cent shipping deal. That's almost 50 percent off the $34.99 recommended price in the U.S.
Amazon.com is hawking the book for $17.99, tempting shoppers who pre-order with a $5 coupon to spend online next month. Barnes & Noble and Borders Group Inc., two leading booksellers in the U.S., will be selling the book for $20.99. For Barnes & Noble's members, the price will be $18.89.
Costco Wholesale will be selling the book for $18.19 at its members-only warehouses.
"The discounting is going to be spectacularly worse this time than last time" a Harry Potter book was released, said Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information, a Stanford, Conn.-based market research company. He noted that the price cutting in the U.S. on the latest book could get deeper if sales at the launch don't meet expectations.
"What we are seeing is cracks in the blockbuster model. (Book publishers) want it to be available everywhere, but the more it is available, the more it becomes discounted. It's really awful that booksellers have to compete in this environment."
Norris added that the move by Asda is unsettling. "You are not only lowering the price of the book. At this point, you are lowering the value of reading," he added.
British independent booksellers said they cannot compete with larger retailers, and that Asda will be selling the seventh Potter book at a loss.
"It is a war we can't even participate in," said Philip Wicks, a spokesman for the Booksellers Association's small business forum. "We think it's a crying shame that the supermarkets have decided to treat it as a loss-leader, like a can of baked beans."
Asda spokeswoman Claire Huston said the retailer wants to make the book "affordable for children." The price applies to copies of "Deathly Hallows" pre-ordered and those purchased in Asda's more than 300 stores, she said.
Customers will be limited to purchasing two copies of the book.
Bloomsbury Vs. Asda
The announcement by Asda follows a battle between Asda and Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury.
On Tuesday, the supermarket chain apologized for putting out a news release accusing the publisher of "blatant profiteering" for setting the recommended retail price for "Deathly Hallows" at 17.99 pounds ($37).
Bloomsbury had earlier said it was canceling the supermarket chain's order for 500,000 copies of the book because Asda owed it money. It denied the move was connected to Asda's accusation of profiteering.
Asda later apologized for its allegation, and said it had sent money to settle the dispute.
Asda had been selling "Deathly Hallows" on its Web site for 8.87 pounds ($18.14).
Many large chains are offering "Deathly Hallows" at big discounts, with supermarket Tesco matching Asda's price and book chain Waterstone's selling it for 8.99 pounds ($18.38).