Culture and Recreation
How big is the Harry Potter sensation?
British author J. K. Rowling’s (1965-) Harry Potter series, following the adventures of a young wizard, debuted in 1997 and has been so popular with readers that it set new records in the publishing industry. It also made Rowling one of the wealthiest people in the world.
On December 21, 2004, it was announced that the sixth of seven planned books in the series would be released on July 16, 2005. That volume, titled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, immediately shot to the top of bestseller lists in the United States and Great Britain, based only on advance orders. The announcement also gave a boost to the stock prices of Rowling’s U.K. and U.S. publishers as well as major book retailers. At that time about 260 million copies of the first five books had been sold worldwide, and it was anticipated that the sixth would be the largest-selling trade book of 2005, selling at least 11 million copies in the United States alone. In sizing up the runaway publishing success that is Harry Potter, Steve Riggio, chief executive officer of Barnes & Noble book retailer, said, “Sales from the fifth book grossed as much as a major Hollywood movie in its first week of release.” Indeed that book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released on June 21, 2003, and became the fastest-selling title in history on the first weekend of its publication. And all Harry Potter books have been number-one bestsellers.
These numbers translated to great personal wealth for the British author who, by her own account, had been on the dole when she began planning the series in the mid-1990s. In spring 2004 Rowling made her debut on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s richest people; her $1-billion fortune ranked her 552nd on the list of 587 billionaires.