Amazon pulls a fast one over latest Harry Potter

Cunning plot to get drop on rest of the book trade

Harry Potter fans are waiting impatiently for JK Rowling's fourth book at noon on 8 July, but there is still great secrecy about the title. (To spoil the surprise the Sunday Telegraph has revealed it is called "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".)

Booksellers have had to sign affidavits that they would not unpack them until publication day - but Amazon.com has decided to distribute copies a day earlier by overnight FedEx, with no extra charge for Saturday delivery.

Amazon says it is not breaking its affidavit, as the trusted employees who handle the book will have signed a separate affidavit prepared by Amazon. Scholastic, the publisher of the American edition, says it is watching the situation, but with Amazon having around 250,000 advanced orders for the book (out of 3.8 million in the first print run), it has a great deal of purchasing clout in doing things its own way - especially as it is offering a 40 per cent discount on the recommended price, which is equal to the retail margin available to many booksellers. Traditional booksellers are unhappy at Amazon's move, although rival online booksellers are not shipping until 8 July.

This may all be good publicity by Amazon, but it did not stop its share price zooming down 19 percent on Friday to a 52-week low after a Lehman analyst credit warned of high risk for Amazon's convertible bonds (annual interest around $60 million) that it issued to raise capital. Amazon called the report "hogwash" and said it had $1 billion in cash. Amazon is not expected to trade profitably with current operations until 2002.

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