Harry Potter magic comes up against Sunday trading laws

Harry Potter magic comes up against Sunday trading laws

Booksellers have been lobbying publisher Little, Brown to change the date of the release of the eighth Harry Potter story so that chain stores can sell the book without breaking Sunday trading laws.

The playscript of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II" by J K Rowling pictured, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany continues the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione 19 years after the end of the seventh novel. It is due for release at 00.01 GMT on Sunday 31st July, the day of Harry Potter’s birthday and hours after the play opens to the public on 30th July.

When the book’s release was announced in February it sparked a frenzy of excitement from booksellers, with Waterstones m.d. James Daunt hinting stores would be holding more of the extravagant events such as those held for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann) and Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown (Doubleday Children’s), which saw television cameras film live from evening events. Daunt said the retailer’s plans would put previous Harry Potter launches “into the shade”.

However, because 31st July falls on a Sunday, excitement around the launch has been dampened by the fact that Sunday trading laws mean shops larger than 280 sq m can only open for six continual hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The laws, which only apply to shops in England, put chain bookshops in the strange position of being able to hold midnight openings for the eagerly-awaited eighth story in Scotland and Wales, for example, but not in England. It means Waterstones and Blackwell’s in Edinburgh can open at midnight to sell the book, but the chains’ London shops doing so would be deemed to be breaking the law. The Bookseller understands the Booksellers Association is lobbying Little, Brown to move the embargo for the script to earlier in the day to avoid the problem.

Kate Skipper, books director at Waterstones, said: “We would welcome an earlier publication day so that all our shops and customers can revel in the excitement of the release of the eighth Harry Potter story as much as they wish, without facing Sunday trading hurdles. However, Harry Potter’s birthday is a special day for many Harry Potter fans so we do understand why the date has been picked. One of the nicest things about Harry Potter fans is their dedication and loyalty to Harry so it will undoubtedly be a moment of absolute celebration whenever it is published. We can’t wait.”

David Precott, m.d. of Blackwell’s, said: “If Little, Brown can move the date of the book’s release then obviously it would be wonderful if our customers in England could buy the title at the same time as our customers in Scotland.”

However, The Bookseller understands the constraints around the embargo are complex and also involve previously agreed licensing arrangements along with marketing and supply chain considerations, so the embargo is unlikely to be moved.

A spokesperson for Little, Brown, told The Bookseller that the launch date was chosen “after much thought and consideration” given the play’s opening-night timings. “We are aware that many booksellers are planning to work with the Sunday trading laws by allowing people to come to ticketed events where they may pick up pre-ordered copies, so we do expect many bookshops to open for a midnight party,” the spokesperson said.

MPs rejected a government proposal to relax Sunday trading laws in the House of Commons in March 2016.