Harry Potter sets new records

( AFP ) - The final book in the world-shaking Harry Potter series headed for new sales records in the first 24 hours of its release as millions of readers across the globe rushed to find out the fate of the bespectacled boy wizard.

"Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows," the seventh volume in a decade-long magical saga, went on sale at 2301 GMT Friday in most countries as author J.K. Rowling hosted an overnight reading for fans at a London museum.

In Britain, bookshop and supermarket chains stayed open all night to meet what they said was record demand.

Waterstone's bookshop, which hosted Britain's main Harry Potter party at its flagship store in central London overnight Friday, said 250,000 fans filled its shops nationwide as it sold more than 100,000 copies in the first two hours.

"There ain't nothing like that in book-selling history," spokesman Jon Howells said.

The book sold an estimated 8.3 million copies within 24 hours of its release, its US publisher, Borders said Sunday.

"The biggest day in Borders' history. We've never had a book like this," Borders USA chief executive officer George Jones told AFP.

Borders said it had sold 1.2 million copies of the book worldwide on Saturday alone, compared to first-day sales of 850,000 for the sixth book.

Stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico launched sales at their time midnight, later than Britain's "witching hour," but shops across the rest of the world stuck to 2301 GMT.

In Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, long lines of children, some dressed in costumes of Harry Potter characters and accompanied by their parents, formed outside bookshops for the launch at 8:00 pm.

In Asia, all-night parties and Hogwarts Express-style train trips were among hundreds of events held over the weekend.

In Bangladesh, Mohammad Kamal Hossain, an executive at ETC, the largest bookstore chain in the capital Dhaka, said around 1,000 copies were sold less than an hour after the novel went on sale but demand outstripped supply.

In India, the Indian Express newspaper said bookstores received 240,000 copies in advance of Saturday's release and sold at least half on the first day.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper in London said some 20 million copies were estimated to have been sold around the globe in the first day.

Publishers Bloomsbury said they expected to sell three million copies in the first 24 hours in Britain, while online retailer Amazon has recorded over two million pre-sales worldwide.

Robert McCrum, literary editor at Britain's Observer weekly, marvelled at the phenomenon.

"Harry Potter is not a book. It's a brand, a franchise, an event, and, for one last time in the 24/7 news cycle, a breaking story," McCrum wrote Sunday.

He praised Rowling's completion of this "world-shaking heptalogy" as "something close to a triumph," despite finding fault with her "cardboard characters," "torpid paragraphs" and "flat-footed dialogue."

Fans were itching to discover which characters died after Rowling announced the demise of two but refused to name them.

In the event Harry kills evil Lord Voldemort, his nemesis, and survives to the end. One of Harry's teachers also dies.

"I've had enough trouble for a lifetime," is the last sentence of the book, spoken by Harry.

The worldwide release was marred for some by plot leaks, despite months of tight security to keep the story-line secret.

Rowling, who wrote the first Potter book as a single mother receiving state benefits, has so far made an estimated one billion dollars (725 million euros).

Some 325 million copies of the first six volumes have been sold worldwide, and translated into 64 languages.

Most recently, "Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince," released on July 16, 2005, sold a record 6.9 million copies in the first 24 hours, from a press run of 10.8 million copies, Scholastic said in a statement.

Potter-mania sparked British booksellers to launch a price war, with supermarket chain Asda selling the novel for five pounds (10.30 dollars, 7.40 euros), less than a third of its 17.99-pound recommended retail price, while other retailers lowered their prices to similar levels.

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