Fourteen years, seven books and blockbuster films later, the Harry Potter brand, valued at over $15 billion, is still going strong.
Over 400 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide and translated into 67 languages, making Rowling the first billionaire author.
She didn’t get there just by writing a few good books.
Looking back on her career, Rowling emerges as an incredibly shrewd businesswoman. Although the eighth and final Harry Potter movie comes out this week, expect her to keep money rolling in for years.
Although she was an unknown author, readers were immediately drawn to J.K. Rowling's boy wizard.
'I wasn't neglected. I didn't sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. My family loves me,' Arthur Levine tells The Washington Post.
Levine is the Scholastic children's book editor who famously bought the rights to the Harry Potter series for $105,000 after reading the first book.
'That doesn't mean I didn't feel invisible and I didn't feel powerless and I didn't have the fantasy that I would be recognised someday. This is something we all share,' says Levine in explaining why he took a chance on Rowling.
'I remember loving the humour, thinking she is so funny,' Levine continues, 'and thinking that here's a rare range of talents in a writer: somebody who can engage me emotionally and yet who can make me laugh. And whose plot is really driving me forward.'
Adults love reading the Harry Potter books, but few want to be seen toting around a child's book.
To make it easier for adults, Bloomsbury Publishing, the British publishing house that first bought the rights to Rowling's books, published a second version of the books with 'adult' (i.e., less colourful and more boring) book covers.
Another popular technique was to leave the book covers at home.
Starting with the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, crowds of people wearing black robes, ties and round-frame glasses began showing up at bookstores for midnight release parties in 2000.
Customers who feared their local bookstore would run out of copies responded by pre-ordering over 700,000 copies prior to the July 8, 2000 release date, according to Gunelius.
The seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series became the fastest-selling book in history, reports The New York Times, with more than 11 million copies sold during the first 24 hours in three markets alone.
Religious groups and individuals in the United States and other countries started to question the topics in Harry Potter, calling them inappropriate and an attempt to involve children in witchcraft.
Some schools, such as St. Joseph's School of Wakefield Mass, banned the Harry Potter books from their classrooms.
Controversy sells, notes Gunelius and instead of hurting book sales, the added attention appears to have attracted more readers, 'many of whom may not have picked up a Harry Potter book before their curiosity was piqued.'
The stories about a boy wizard and his friends spurred young people's interest in reading -- and more book sales
Besides breaking publishing and movie ticket records, Harry Potter's greatest achievement, say parents and teachers, has been to persuade young people to pick up a book and read it, even if the effects were limited.
No comprehensive studies of the effect of the Harry Potter books in the United States have been done, however the U.K.-based Federation of Children's Book Groups released figures showing that 59 per cent of U.K. kids think the books have improved their reading skills and 48 per cent say the books are why they read more, reports USA Today.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios has drawn in millions of visitors
The theme park opened in June 2010 and six months of Harry Potter was already enough to lift Universal Orlando's full-year attendance by 20 per cent, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Universal said it drew 11.2 million visitors in 2010, an increase of nearly 2 million from 2009, as huge crowds descended on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in the resort's Islands of Adventure theme park.
Tourists plunking down cash for food, magic wands, and other Potter-themed souvenirs also helped push the annual revenue up 41 per cent to $1.1 billion.
J. K. Rowling's compelling personal story has also fuelled interest -- she was once a single-mother living on welfare who is now richer than the Queen of England
Sam Jordison at The Guardian calls it the 'perfect 21st century marketing campaign.'
Last month, a 'coming soon' web page popped up promising something unique would be happening soon.
'The most impressive thing of all, though, is the way Rowling has managed to present the whole thing as an act of altruism,' writes Jordison. This isn't necessarily hogwash: at this stage in her fantastically lucrative career, money presumably isn't the driving force for Rowling and there's every chance that she does love the fans who have made her so successful.'
Jordison also notes, 'Everyone knows the most important rule of selling is to convince the sucker who's paying that you're doing them a favour ...'
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