High Book Price Holds Back Harry Potter Fans

The Chinese version of the Harry Potter series has found millions of readers in China. But now that the English version of the series is available in bookstores in China, avid Chinese fans -- most of whom are students -- have found the English version too expensive.

While sales of Harry Potter in Chinese were soaring, Harry Potter in English Ė which arrived in China shortly after the Chinese version came out -- has shown only a steady increase. The English versions have sold best in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

The publisher of the Chinese version of Harry Potter series, Peopleís Literature Press, only imported the copyright of the Chinese version of the series. The press has negotiated with the agent of Harry Potter on the import of the English version of the series but no conclusion has been reached.

The English version of the Harry Potter series available in Chinese bookstores are all original editions directly imported from abroad. Only a few companies in China have the right to import foreign books, and the foreign books that appear on the stacks of bookstores are all purchased from these import companies.

Beijing International Book Store, a subsidiary of China International Book Trading Corporation (CIBTC) is selling the English versions of Harry Potter. Compared with the Chinese versions, English versions are thicker but of lower paper quality.

"The prices of first three volumes of the series are all 140 yuan (US$16.90); the fourth volume 300 yuan (US$36.30)," the sales woman told a reporter.

"Many customers, most of them were high school students and college students, and some were accompanied by their parents, asked about these books. But few of them bought the books after they learned the price," she said.

Similar reactions were reported at the Haidian Foreign Language Bookstore in Beijing. Most of the customers, also students, said that they could not accept the price of the English versions of Harry Potter, and even if they decided to buy the books, they could not afford the whole set.

"I have read the Chinese versions of Harry Potter and think that they are really well written. Then I hit upon the idea of having a look at the English versions. I could improve my English in that way. But they are too expensive. The prices equal half of my monthly cost of living," a junior student with International Relations Institute complained.

Why are these books so expensive? Ms. Wang with the marketing department of China International Book Trading Corporation explained:

"If we take the Chinese criterion, the original prices of foreign books are very high. When they have been converted into China Renmibi yuan, the prices become strikingly high because the conversion rates between yuan and US dollar and pound sterling are fairly high. If we are to reduce the prices of the book, we should at first reduce the import price. And import price can only be cut by discounts. The more books we buy from foreign book traders, the more discounts they will grant us. But we canít import enough books to reduce their prices to a satisfying level because we donít have enough customers. Most of us in China are not proficient in the English language and canít read books in English. Our customers for those English books are primarily students and a few small groups such as foreigners. That is to say, we donít have a large market. So, how can we get enough discounts to cut the prices?"

However, the prices of Harry Potter in Beijing Import & Export Bookstore in Wangfujing are very attractive to student customers. They sell each copy of the first three volumes for 58 yuan (US$7).

"The books we sell are the American versions of Harry Potter which are different from the original British versions because they have been translated into American English. We import them from America, and they are much cheaper than the British Versions. We have so far sold over 1,000 copies and most of the buyers are college and senior middle school students," Sun with the store said.

This store is a subsidiary of the Beijing Book Import & Export Co., Ltd, which is among the several companies in China that are approved to import books.

It is estimated that as the film based on Harry Potter will be shown at the end of this year and succeeding stories come out, the sale of the Harry Potter series will continue to prosper in China. But the biggest hurdle still will be the high prices. If the prices can be cut to about 50 yuan (US$6) for one copy, there will be a huge market. Lower price can certainly promote the sale.

(By Li Shilei, Guangmin Daily, October 23, 2001, translated for china.org.cn by Chen Chao Novermber 9, 2001)

In This Series

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Harry Potter--the Bestseller

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